The coffee shop where I grab my daily “joe” has a parking lot that is literally an accident waiting to happen. Traffic is allowed to go both ways even though there is only enough room for one car to pass. The drive-through blindly shoots out where people enter and exit the building. The turns in and out of the parking lot are too tight for most cars. All of which makes getting a cup of coffee a much more exciting escapade than it need be.
This morning the perils of the parking lot were on full display. I pulled in while a car in the drive-through was pulling out. Meanwhile, a customer was entering the store. The customer was caught between us. I saw him and stopped. The other driver did not. Luckily, he saw her. He waited until she drove by and then entered the crosswalk. As he passed behind her car, she remained oblivious to his presence. He was irked.
“HEY!” he shouted violently. “Watch out! Pay attention! What’s wrong with you?!” (His language was a bit more colorful and “religious” than that.)
With her window up and radio on she didn’t react. She drove away peaceably, disappearing into the traffic of Transit Rd. If she heard him yelling, she didn’t let him know. She merely went on with her life.
That’s when he looked at me.
He wasn’t mad at me. I stopped. But he was still mad. His eyes locked onto mine. “Did you see that?” they seemed to say. “Can you believe she didn’t stop?” he seemed to ask. He threw his hands up seeking a response from me. I smiled and nodded as if to say, “Sorry that happened to you, glad you’re okay.”
When I entered the store the smoke was still coming from his ears. He was curt with the barista. He exhaled with obvious frustration when he got his coffee. And then he looked at me again. His eyes were filled with the same anger and exasperation. They widened seeking some sort of response from me. “Tell me you saw that?” “Tell me I’m not crazy.” “Validate my anger.” I said, “Have a blessed day.” He scoffed and grunted.
It is my perception that there is a lot of anger in the world right now. Some of the anger I understand and appreciate. The anger felt by protesters at rallies, by families of gun violence victims, by first responders who find their every step scrutinized – this anger strikes me as somewhat righteous. That is, anger that comes from a good place and motivates solutions. The anger I do not understand is the anger that merely seems to agitate. Anger carried around by hurting people with chips on their shoulder. Anger that seems to exist for itself – anger that seeks one singular thing: more anger.
There’s a saying: Not forgiving others is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I think the same thing can be said about anger. Holding onto our anger towards others only hurts us.
Bitterness, anger, and resentment are bound to infiltrate our lives from time to time. When anger strikes we are invited to deal with it in appropriate and productive ways. Not by lashing out, striking others, or allowing it to seep out miserably over time. Yelling at closed car windows, rudeness towards innocent bystanders, and attempts to rile up others are completely unproductive practices. On the other hand, prayer, contemplation, discernment, and maybe even just quietly counting to ten may be far more productive and beneficial (for us and for others).
My favorite psalm is Psalm 46. In it the psalmist writes,
Nations rage and kingdoms shake,
When God speaks the earth melts away…
Be still then and know that I am God.
The Lord of hosts is with us,
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.
When nations rage, we are invited to be still. When kingdoms shake, we are called to remember that God is in control and God is with us.
This world is ready to rage. People are quick to anger. Indeed, society seems to celebrate anger right now. May we who call Christ Lord – who have faith that God is with us – find the strength and courage to be still. Only then will it be possible to get a cup of coffee in peace.
In the Way,