Alaina Kleinbeck: Practicing kindness in the midst of rage

Christ cleansing the temple (oil painting)

Expulsion of the merchants from the temple by A.N. Mironov

Jesus welcomed the oppressed and the oppressor to eat, learn and join him. He did not dehumanize, insult or disparage. How does that invite us to a new way of being?

Rage seems to be an ever-present part of daily life. It’s in my conversations with friends and strangers, in the checkout line at the grocery store, at the dinner table, in my social media feeds. And often, frankly, it’s in me.

Many times, the rage is a response to violence committed against vulnerable people. It’s grounded in real, personal experiences of abuse of power, denial of dignity, manipulation, coercion and harm. Sometimes, it’s a response to a gradual erosion of trust between people.

As a Christian, I feel my rage rise when I see the sacred breath of God in one person being used to silence that very breath in another. I find myself frequently astonished by the human capacity to incite anger in one another, to default toward distrust and disbelief, to allow bitterness to fester -- to our own harm. Doubtless, each of us, without much preparation, can name moments when we’ve witnessed, experienced or even perpetrated such a denial of another’s humanity.

While rage in such moments can be justified, it can also rob us of hope and diminish our capacity to engage fruitfully in our relationships, our work and our play.

Recently, in the midst of yet another grueling national media story about women’s experiences with sexual violence, author Glennon Doyle asked her social media followers to hold her accountable to being kind in the midst of her rage.

This struck me as a profoundly Christian request, one that convicted and inspired me to reconsider the relationship of kindness and rage.

Jesus was no stranger to rage. His righteous anger turned over tables, cleansed the temple, rebuked friends, exorcised demons and chastised religious leaders. Jesus was prudent in his displays of rage, but the mere fact that he experienced the full range of human emotions brings me comfort.

The Letter to the Hebrews explains: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16 NRSV).

In Jesus, we have a high priest who drew near to the rage we experience, knowing its full potential to harden our spirits toward one another. In Jesus, we have a God who knew real, justified rage. Jesus hid away from the masses when their needs, pain and perversity overwhelmed him and he needed to pray. I can imagine Jesus counting to 10 to let the wave of human emotion ebb before responding to a group of scheming religious leaders or stubborn disciples. In Jesus, we have a God who prayed through raging tears of blood for the whole thing just to end. It is Jesus’ resurrection that gives us hope that rage and death are not the end of our story.

The rage I witness all around me is a deep lament that this world is not as it could or should be. Jesus’ capacity to hold rage and kindness together point me toward a way of being that goes beyond the readily available cultural examples of rage.

When Jesus experienced rage, he did not dehumanize, insult or disparage. Instead of responding with violence, Jesus offered grace, mercy and kindness. Jesus welcomed both oppressed and oppressor, without judgment, to be with him, to eat and learn with him, to experience a different way of being. When Jesus saw people for who they could be and invited them to follow, he was holding his rage and kindness together in powerful and sacred ways.

Jesus had intimate knowledge of what it is like to live in times of rage and death, yet he practiced kindness in every part of his life. The author of Hebrews says that because of this, we can be bold to approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace. I am learning that receiving mercy and finding grace isn’t the end of the story but rather a call to live differently in this world.

At the throne of grace, in the presence of God’s mercy, I am challenged and emboldened to review my rage. Like Doyle, I can ask for help in being kind. At the throne of grace, I can find the peace of mind and endurance of heart to practice kindness in the midst of my profound anger.

Kindness forces us to resist using the real people around us as targets for the rage we feel toward oppressive systems and absent perpetrators. The catharsis we might experience in treating others poorly only sparks further rage in their lives. Causing harm with our rage is not the Christian task.

Like Doyle, I am a white woman. I am aware of the ways I have been formed by a racialized imagination that prescribes and denies emotions according to racial identity. I want to be clear that a conviction to hold rage and kindness together is not a call for the silence of my sisters and brothers of color or others experiencing oppression in systemic forms. Quite the opposite.

Women of color disproportionately bear the burden of oppression while simultaneously being deemed hysterical or irrational when they exhibit rage. It is my sisters of color in the Christian faith who intimately understand Jesus’ rage and kindness and what it means to hold them together. They teach me by example how to live in that tension.

I am learning the need to take a break. Sometimes, I gather with others who have a shared experience and vent rage before attempting to confront the situation again. Sometimes, I spend time alone, processing my rage and praying through it. I am learning that part of my work as a white woman is not to focus on myself but to hold the experiences of the vulnerable at the center of my rage and kindness.

Ultimately, Jesus’ rage was not about him but about his deep yearning for the people of God to take action to put things right in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ other-centered, kingdom-minded anger points me toward the grace, mercy and kindness that I might offer in seasons of unrelenting rage.