When Rage Keeps us from Community

What keeps us from engaging well with one another? What keeps communities from growing in joy? For the next few weeks on the podcast, Dan and Rachael are going to be debating four categories that prevent us from connecting well, beginning with rage. Different from righteous anger, rage is a complex, uncontrolled feeling that causes someone to commit violence—emotional or physical—against another. In a time when people’s margins and capacity are thinner than ever, how do we differentiate between rage and anger, what are the ways we see rage enacted in our society, and how we can attend to our bodies and wellbeing in the midst of someone’s rage?

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Episode Transcript

Dan: Okay, Rachael. We’re beginning a series on the killers of community and things that keep a family, a marriage, friendships, larger collectives from actually growing in joy in communion and let me just name them. And then we’ll step into the first and that is the category of rage. And we’re going to need quickly to acknowledge what a complex category because we do not want to say that there is something wrong with all anger, but nonetheless rage scapegoating and rage always requires someone to turn that inner violence on. So we’ll eventually deal with a category of scapegoating and then we end up hiding. And I’m going to use the word masking. But again, I don’t want people to miss here. We’re not talking about wearing appropriate masks on behalf of others in the middle of the COVID era, but the kind of masking is to be in a presence of not being who you really are, A kind of inauthenticity, a lack of sincerity or hypocrisy. And then the final is sabotage. So just to say what keeps us from engaging well with one another. And I know you have a lot to say with regard to the intersection of rage and righteous anger.

Rachael: Yeah. As you were saying Dan, I think these are very tricky places to enter and I think I’ve heard you say this a lot and I’ve always appreciated this kind of framework that do not enter tricky waters is a lot of cowardice, but to enter them, there’s kind of a built in foolishness. So I know we’re in a place like that because part of what I’m feeling is people tend to feel very entitled to their rage. So when we’re saying, entitled to their rage entitled to scapegoating, but in that kind of self-denial way where you don’t perceive yourself as being filled with rage, you perceive the person you’re threatened by being filled with rage. So you hear something like this and go see you guys didn’t advocate for your needs well enough. You know, like we’re in these places where profound places of oppression and misuse of power, which has been married to religion and Christianity are being exposed and I actually think that’s a work of the spirit. And so we work with survivors of abuse and when you have experienced harm and abuse, sometimes there’s anger involved in saying no more like I’m not going to experience this anymore. And sometimes maybe you’ve advocated in ways that were really gentle and kind and curious and thoughtful and you haven’t been listened to, you haven’t been heard well. And so there is kind of a movement toward, I’m going to advocate for myself and you know, we work in a framework that we’re encouraging people from time to time to tap into and find their righteous anger. So it’s hard to talk about rage and nuance it well, when there is an element of biblical protest which involves a righteous anger, to say no to injustice, to invite people to repentance to a different kind of life. It can be really hard to nuance well, what is it that we’re talking about? So I guess my invitation would be if there’s any impulse in you that’s like, yeah, what you just said gives me license to actually keep dehumanizing other human beings, no matter where you find yourself on whatever spectrum we’re talking about, I would ask you to do a spirit check and be like, I’m not sure that’s what they’re trying to accomplish, like it is not our hope or intent to license anyone to feel justified in the dehumanizing of another human being.

Dan: And already from the very beginning, let’s just say there are moments in all relationships where if there is an absence of anger, there is an inevitability of injustice. So that in a marriage, where you have one partner who has a deep commitment to not hear the harm that indeed they bring, it will require some degree of movement to escalate the level of intensity on behalf of the other, for there to be a possibility of hearing. So when scripture invites us to be slow to anger, I encounter plenty of people who read that or hear that as don’t be angry but there is a slowness that needs to be engaged, a kind of what’s going on within me rather than a self-righteous presumption that what I’m feeling is utterly in accord with what’s good and true and beautiful. So already we’re beginning to get into this, let’s just step back and say we are living in a day of rage. I am a motorcyclist and I’m riding far less because the few times I’ve written in the last few months, you always need to be aware of cars that cars don’t see you. But I’ve been brushed back by cars that seemed to have very clear idea. I’m there people are angry, just plain angry in our day. And you see that with the rise of folks screaming at hitting, violating flight attendants in ways that, you know, the governmental process, the FAA is having to bring major fines against people because they are raging about being required to wear a mask, not the kind of masking we’ll talk about at some point. So with all that, I don’t think we’re saying anything particularly new that we’re living in a heightened era of rage, but also it’s a heightened era of appreciable, honorable, righteous anger, that there are structures, systemic structures, supremacy, structures being exposed. And it’s easy to respond to righteous anger with what feels like righteous anger, but actually is an effort to silence the voice that is exposing something you don’t want to see. So let me just kind of go, where are you so far in this conversation.

Rachael: Oh, I mean I, I wholeheartedly agree with you and I actually find it to be a very scary time and I know for myself, I’ve pretty much self disclosed that when I feel threatened when I feel fear, I do tend to hang out more in the fight part of fight, flight or freeze trauma responses of our body and that biochemical response of survival. So I even feel like I’m having to watch myself where I can be very quick to anger as a defensive posture. But I think we’re in even something more than that. I mean you can definitely feel people’s margins are fraying and certainly people are behaving very badly in public settings where there’s a lot of variables that you can’t control. But we also know there’s been an increasingly terrifying statistic of a rise in hate crimes which I know we’re going to talk more about scapegoating. There’s been an increase in, I think an incapacity to actually see each other’s faces when we need to come to hard moments of sometimes maybe calling people in calling people to something more, but coming in ways that are in and of itself dehumanizing. So I don’t disagree with you. Like anytime I’m on a plane or in airports or in places where people, I can feel the energy, it is, you do feel that sense of like man we are in wildly unsafe waters right now, there has been something unleashed in people I think a license and it’s almost like a license to kill. And so I don’t disagree with you. And I’m just well acquainted with rage. So there is something in me that feels very afraid for this day and age and that more violence will continue to unfold.

Dan: Yeah. And I find that even talking about it, feels like I’m getting too close to the edge of a cliff and I find myself even is we step into this kind of wanting to get it over with, let’s just get this podcast over with, even though the others coming are not easy. But when we’re beginning to talk about these four categories of rage and scapegoating and hiding and sabotage, we’re talking about killers that leech our soil so that good fruit can’t occur. Look, we all know that we need more civility, More care for one another, pundits have been saying that for I think centuries, but even more so in the last few years. But what we’re talking about is until we dislodge the reality of rage and scapegoating and masking and sabotage, we’re not going to grow in civility, we’re not even going to grow and what we’re really meant to have, which is compassion. So let me step back and say, I see rage before we define it further if I can use these categories of hot and cold and something in the middle called smoldering. Like there’s a rage that’s explosive in that sense, it’s, that tend to use the word centripetal, it’s just an outward volume is intense. You don’t have to question whether you’re in the presence of someone’s rage, but at the other extreme is a kind of cold rage. Far more centrifical than taking in condensing and frankly that scares me more than the hot rage because I think actually more domestic violence, more cruelty it’s more conscious when it’s a cold rage that has condensed over weeks, months, years. There’s something nourishing that kind of cold rage that allows it to condense and something in between kind of a smoldering where you go, oh, I don’t want to bring any air to this because it could explode. So I think we all know people or our own lives where you go, you’re more, you’re more prone to hot rage. You’re more smoldering your, oh, I hope you don’t know many people who have that cold rage, but just having that level of differentiation. I’m curious where that takes your mind as you think about your own rage because we all have it and the rage you’ve encountered in others?

Rachael: I mean, as I listen to you, if I’m just going to hold a mirror to myself, I definitely fall much more in the hot rage category. I mean, I know for myself when that when anger gets escalated and typically in places of fear and threat. It’s very hot, it comes out very hot. It’s very clear. I don’t have a poker face. I don’t think anyone is like, oh, it’s Rachael feeling and because I’ve done enough work to understand how these triggers have come to be and um, and that usually, if I actually indulge in that rage, I end up bringing harm that breaks my heart. So sometimes there can be an awareness of like, okay, you’re enraged. You know, your biochemicals are telling you it’s going to feel really good if you just indulge the crap out of this. But they’re always can be, not always, but sometimes can be an invitation to at least know there’s something, there’s something that I need and I do have a little more choice here then maybe I think.

Dan: Having been in the presence of what I’ll call some hot emotion on your part what I’ve always been so impressed is you have the ability in our engagement to know that you are enraged with some capacity to in one sense, loop back around it or in it to begin to engage it instead of just justifying it. So, you know, there are moments where I sense your smoldering. I’d rather you just be enraged. So, to turn around, uh, like what’s your encounter with me with regard to that.

Rachael: What an interesting conversation we’re having, let’s just, you know, categorize each other’s rage.

Dan: Well, we have been with one another in a whole lot of difficult, contentious, conflict based moments. I mean, I would say it’s true. It’s true. I’ve never asked that question of you. So I’m just wondering, we’ll let everyone ponder along with you.

Rachael: Okay, well, I mean, I think you have a very similar engagement. Like it’s not hard to tell when you’re angry now whether or not you’re ready to own that you’re angry. I think sometimes is more of the playground of how do we want to step here? So maybe more smoldering sometimes.

Dan: That’s fair. That’s fair. And to be able to say, let’s just put it in blunt terms. You’re saying, ultimately I’m not as mature as you, which I would agree with. I would agree that you know, I can hold my anger, it can move cold. It can move to a kind of, you will never cross that line again. And that face of intimidation has been named by people as close and fond to me as my wife, my children, good friends, like just get angry. Just let it out. So we can begin to deal with it don’t harbor. And that sense of harboring rage is what I mean by that cold condensing. But one of the categories you came up and said, let’s just come back to rage comes from fear. I don’t think people are just plain enraged and angry. I think if we can step more deeply into the process, rage becomes a way we get to escape that well, trauma base and that’s always the issue of threat and powerlessness. So to begin with, rage is an effort to escape. What feels far more humbling if not humiliating and that is to be afraid,

Rachael: Whether that fear is based in reality or based in where your imagination has been exploited. And I think that that’s part of what’s hard is when we look at this larger moment we’re in, there are a lot of people that benefit from your fear and your rage, in a capitalist society where you clicking on news bytes and sound bites and tuning in to people who need you to be afraid to keep making money, or who need you to be afraid so that you will follow where they ask you to go, whether that’s in a church or any kind of community. So we actually are very well acquainted whether we know it or not with people exploiting those places in us.

Dan: Oh, uh, right here is a whole other podcast. But to say it again, look systems exploit fear and particularly systems that make money off of your fear exploited so that you will come back to hear more to hear and receive more because you need the information to gain a sense of control. Back to that false notion that knowledge is power. And indeed, so often we operate as if we know more. I mean, it’s why sometimes I’m glued to the 24-hour news shows because I need more information. And yet again, I’m not saying every news structure operates fully and completely in a totally manipulative way, but some do. And in that there is a reality to the use of fear to intensify anger. But let’s just underscore anger creates a bond. Rage creates a bond and we actually know that one of the bonding effects of rage is that it actually brings this rise and cortisol while also increasing a sense of oxytocin. So you get aroused and you get connected when you feel rage and you can be part of a community that feels that rage with you. Again, we’re on very, I mean, there are communities that need to be angry together. And yes, that should increase oxytocin but where there is this movement to indulgence so that there is the absence of any other affect any other internal reality other than rage, it’s inevitable that it is that kind of leaching of the soil. So where you don’t have the ability to hold anger and grief anger, grief and some level of care for those who have done you harm, there will be an indulgence that creates this sense of like, well, communities that bond through rage need gossip in order to bind, not just an affect, but meaning. So gossip becomes the way we explain why we deserve this rage and why the humanity of those we’re opposed to is absent and in one sense foul, so that we feel justified uh and being able to do harm to them, that’s where we can begin to go. Mhm. No wonder in a fear-based day like this, rage is growing exponentially.

Rachael: Mhm. Well, I think also when you have a history of rage that has been unaddressed, and in some ways like that, like where it is a part of your inheritance, whether that’s generational and that kind of, we see that generational trauma, whether that’s a collective story of being, you know, a being entitled to rage that pours out, that is a killer and so I think sometimes it’s also this yeah, very binding, almost like double wound that just keeps coming back and keeps people very bound and I think especially as Christians and those who say we follow the way of Jesus, we actually have been, we have someone who has gone before us who had every entitlement to rage and make no mistake, Jesus was angry, was had righteous anger that was expressed, So it’s not the absence of anger we’re talking about here. So, you know, in some ways, when we’re talking about communities of rage, there is also a need for a community that rages back against you. And so again, we see this in marriages, we see this in, you know, you have said, contempt is the enemy of love. So when there is, is an indulgence in contempt that builds to a kind of rage and that rage is returned, it makes for a wonderful playground of all kinds of chaos and intensification of all the biochemicals that feel really good and it leads to a doubling down of justification for the behavior.

Dan: Oh, it really what you’re talking about from my standpoint is addiction. Look, you can’t be aroused through cortisol and stressed biochemicals and expect it will sustain itself. It does bring when you’re enraged again, let’s go back to a very simple point. Fear is an overwhelming affect. So when we feel threat, it’s the core to our experience of trauma, present and past, we don’t want to feel afraid and we have many strategies and structures to eliminate fear. But as I’m saying, rage is one of the top ones. Whether it’s cold, whether it’s smoldering. Whether it’s hot when you’re feeling rage, you don’t tend to feel fear yet. Fear produces cortisol, stressed biochemical, so does rage eventually it’s going to dissipate. But as it dissipates, it’s a lot like addiction. The craving for more, that sense of power that you feel and rage gives you at least for a short period of time, a sense of mastery and control. And so if you’re feeling threat, of course you want mastery and control. But to gain it through rage means you’re going to have this peak and then you’re going to plummet. How do you sustain rage over a long period of time? That’s why you need a community that joins you in rage and you need an object, either a category like the republicans, the democrats, or whatever, or you need an actual person that their face serves as a focal point for the re-intensification when you begin to drop. So the addictive process requires a community for it to return and gain a greater ascendancy. But our bodies are not meant to be enraged for long, long, long periods of time, which is in part why would argue you need someone who yelled back against you to actually keep your rage growing. You need an enemy. And so the question is in the middle of being enraged, who’s your enemy? And again, we’re not trying to get to the quote-unquote solution to this issue, but we’re stuck beautifully stuck with the call to love our enemy, which means we cannot sustain non grief oriented rage and be in the heart of God. But that process of asking, what are you so afraid of and to allow fear to actually be what rage feels like, especially for the enraged and historically enraged person. It feels like too big of a risk. Like you’re asking me to get near this dreaded word vulnerability.

Rachael: So in some ways what you’re saying Dan is one of the steps of beginning to be disarmed so that there’s another possibility a more human way forward, A more Christian way forward if you will is that we have to start to expose the root of the rage. That there has to be a capacity to begin to engage what we’re protecting, what we’re um, actually fleeing.

Dan: Oh, so well said. Yeah. You know, I think of the keyword here is I have to boundary rage, whether it’s your rage or my rage or our rage, there has to be almost again stepping away from the cliff because part of the arousal of rage is that you know, you are out of control. So it’s a strange again paradox. Look, rage gives you a sense of control, but the arousal is that, you know, the people around you are actually to some degree afraid. And now it’s what you said at the very beginning, it’s a transfer, you’re taking my fear into your body and in some sense, I feel relieved that you’re afraid now and I’m not as afraid, but I haven’t even admitted, I’m afraid so. I’ve gotta, I’ve gotta stop. I think that’s the keyword. I’ve got to have some point where I go, wait a minute, wait a minute, what whatever I’m feeling, I’ve got a boundary step away from the cliff and begin a process of going, essentially, this is not who I meant to be, but anyone who’s been enraged knows that’s not, that’s not enough, which is why again, scripture says be slow, slow to anger, quick to hear. And so we’ve got a second major category of, there has to be a turn toward the other. If we’re actually going to engage our own and other people’s rage, that means there’s got to be an exposure of the fear and the hurt that’s involved in generating the rage.

Rachael: Sorry, like where my brain is right now, to be quite honest with you, is this what you had me read about empathy and this kind of like, or I was reading maybe you send it to your someone else did. Yeah. Like where my brain was going, it’s like, and so you can imagine how hard that becomes when we have entire religious systems actually spending time arguing if empathy is a sin or if the capacity to actually feel or experience something of what another is experiencing, you know, to dissipate things how we’re in some really tricky waters when people are saying . . .

Dan: Oh, can I just say it out loud again? There are communities that question whether or not empathy keeps us from commitment to truth. So is that not a rage-filled theology that questions the power of being slow to anger but quick to hear. And that notion of quick to hear means let me step into your world, let me I might not agree. But if I don’t and I’ve never liked the phrase taking a mile of walk and your moccasins, your shoes, whatever, but there is a sense of no, let me enter your skin, let me enter your suffering. Let me enter the heartache that brings you to whatever you hold currently as the basis of your anger and hurt. So to step back and to be able to say, we’ve got a boundary, but we’ve got to step into our own fear and other people’s fear into their hurt and other people’s hurt in a way in which we don’t, in one sense justify other people’s failure, their sin because of their hurt and anger. But also we have a deep commitment to hear what’s propelling it. So I think that’s where, you know, we were breaking down a very fundamental commitment of slow to anger, quick to hear, and with a movement, a movement toward the other wanting goodness. So that I believe is so hard to have when you’re facing someone who’s enraged at you being a friend, being a partner, be a spouse, you know how to how to set a boundary how to, in one sense, step into what their fear and hurt might be because just asking what are you afraid of is actually going to increase the rage. But if you don’t ask that of yourself with regard to I wonder what is triggering this immense violent dark response. If you don’t have that compassion to know you’re not just a mean human being, oh, you may be at times, but there is something of fear and hurt that is evolving this moment. Your sensitivity will be only to run or join in your rage against them and therefore exacerbate for both of you. This almost again, I hate to use the word, but I’m going to sort of this orgasm of violence that allows for this expulsion of fear, but actually only increases more sense of hurt and ultimately more fear. So that process of boundary expose, but stepping away indeed from a person who’s choosing to in one sense, upped the ante of rage, threatening verbally physically harm to you and being able to go, I refuse, I refuse to join you in this moment. I’ll engage you, but only if you’re willing to, in one sense slowly come back to your senses. Until then I’ll step away from in one sense choosing to be in the presence of that ongoing rage. That’s right. Which I, you know,

Rachael: I think we’re seeing a lot people, especially in the church saying unity, unity, unity, basically, you have to just kind of bare my rage that we stay together and there is some sense right now in a lot of space is people need to have the wisdom to know, actually, I can’t do the work, I need to do to hell to make sense of where I’m feeling really protected in a constant level of threat. And that means There also has to be attending to your body, attending to where your body is actually manifesting fear and anger and hatred and rage and how that’s being exploited and paying attention to where that’s being invited because again, we’re not talking about things happening in a vacuum, are happening in a neutral space, where we are in an environment in a context and within systems. And one of the things I think that has to just be named, not in a spiritual bypassing way, because that’s actually not our understanding of sin, in general, is not that oh, because evil exists and is fueling things. Then we are somehow off the hook where we join evil in our bodies and our relationships and our beings. No, we actually know we are people call to repentance, people who are not bound by the choices we make, but we also are not, we don’t get to escape where we have repair work to do. And I think it just has to be named not only do people need to have boundaries exposed here and hurt be able to step away when you are in unsafe places tend to your body, but we have to actually be discerning people and know that there are principalities and powers that are dependent upon our rage to dehumanize ourselves because rage doesn’t just dehumanize other human beings. It dehumanizes you, you are stepping out of your humanity, cutting off your capacity to bring the fullness of who God has made you to be. And that’s where we can find that communion in the Kingdom of God when we surrender to the way of the spirit and make no mistake about it. I don’t think you get to escape empathy or movements toward relinquishing rage as a weapon when the one we call our God, the one who is Jesus came to be in our body, as a part of our body to know what it is to be at the mercy of violence and rage, selfishness and deceit and all kinds of threats and who has empowered us to move in a different way. So I think we’re not only dealing with kind of like, oh we’re in this moment, I think we are dealing with principalities and powers that actually are feasting off of something that we also have to make a commitment to surrender to the spirit of God. That doesn’t make us docile or just, you know, so part of loving your enemy means you just take the rage. No, absolutely not. It is actually a commitment to not join the rage. And so I’m grateful for the ways you’ve brought these caveats that there is, there has to be a return to choice that there has to be an engagement with where we feel fear, threat hurt, there has to be wisdom and having these boundaries to know when we can engage and when we can’t and it is a slow process, you know, you can’t just disarm rage like by deciding cognitively like, oh that’s as bad, I’m going to stop doing this. If that was the case, our world will look really different than it does.

Dan: Oh boy, whatever. As we end, let me just go back to one of the comments that you made earlier and that is contempt is what evil brings and feasts upon. So wherever your contempt is being directed to any person, to any group, to any community, it is a, well it will be a hot rage, but it might be smoldering or growing condensed and in that, you know, we really have a binary here. And I think it’s one of those places where I would say maybe I’m simplifying too far, but you either have the choice of contempt or compassion, compassion doesn’t mean you condone, but it does mean you enter as Jesus has entered the body of the other. Can we enter the suffering, the fear, the war, the warfare without in one sense, mere judgment, but with an openness to engage them with boundaries with honor, not subjecting ourselves to people’s violence, but nonetheless having a sense that many ways rage is a shield against fear. Can we honor fear and step into it?