Donald Trump’s agenda seems to be to urge his followers to reveal what threatens and angers them. Those who have spent months and years attempting to comprehend such a leader contend that Trump is merely tapping into the deepest emotions that mortals hold. He allows them to explode if they have repressed those urges. Evidently our culture has not known such unbridled pandemonium since the Lincoln days.
I believe most church people repress their inmost feelings and never let them out to their co-workers, neighbors, pastors or lay persons. They might disclose minor dread and ire but they will likely resist revealing their rage toward immigrants that might be encroaching on their turf. As Christians we are supposed to accept those who differ from them. I don’t recall a time when we pastors were urged to determine whether or not our congregants are intolerant toward certain peoples.
Marc Hetherington, a Vanderbilt professor, has spent an enormous amount of time reflecting on and writing about how authoritarians like Trump capture peoples’ needs to erupt over contentious issues. Hetherington admits it is extremely difficult to perceive how people truly feel about racism. For example, he claims “There are certain things that you just can’t ask people directly. You can’t ask people, ‘Do you not like black people?’ You can’t ask people if they’re bigots.” Ah, but a clever authoritarian can cause his or her listeners to come through with flat-out truth in the heat of the moment.
Why have we continued to hide what belongs to us, the wealth of subterranean emotions that we possess? Is it possible that the early church in the first century set the tone for how people bond with each other? Did it choose to urge mortals to attempt to live and love primarily out of their reasoning faculties and tamp down their anger and rage?
While serving as an interim District Superintendent recently I decided to ask Pastor Parish Relations Committee members if they had any anger toward the church. A gentleman next to me gasped and said “I thought I would never reveal the near-rage I felt seven years ago when a new pastor and lay leaders decided to forego a vision we worked on for three years. I became angrier over it by repressing it. I felt I needed to get over it but it never went away. I lost sleep for months and it even affected my job and family life during that time. I never blamed the pastor but I did not forgive the lay leaders who helped scuttle it.” Two other committee members nodded, indicating they must have held back too.
At one point in the history of faith communities it was understood that the heart was the center and source of unconditional love and congregations were charged with the responsibility for expanding that compassion. We may have imagined the love being cloistered inside an organ somewhere within the chest region.
Neuroscientists have managed to debunk that image after discovering an organ in the brain known as the Insula. They found unconditional compassion in that body part but it is stored alongside fear, anger, rage and sexual urges. So, now what? Are we supposed to take our anger, rage and whatever out from our homes and temples to better the world? Maybe so. We will not have to act on those innate urges but maybe we will have to convey to outsiders who we are and what makes us tick before we do feel the need to act abruptly toward them.
I may be making too much out of my street chaplain stint but I found a way to bond with street people who revealed their deepest emotions. The contrast for me between church life and Skid Row bonding was astonishing. The transients did not hold back on what they experienced. I felt alive, enriched and honest within those accelerated heart-beating brief ties. We revealed our loss of love and need for it, fears, anger, rage and sexual urges. I seldom experienced that kind of openness with church people even within my counseling sessions.
I was interrelating daily between those in the church and those on the street during those three years. I liked both but I eventually discovered that church folk remained polite and proper by repressing what they truly felt.
So, back to the Trump man. What if chaos can cause us at times to get in touch with our deep side, our truthful side? Frankly, I think Mr. Trump is pulling strings to mostly get elected but in the mean time we can be honest about how much anger and rage we have suppressed and lost sleep over.
“When truth is buried, it grows, it chokes, it gathers such explosive force that on the day it breaks out, it blows everything up with it.”
Emile Zola, L’Aurore, 1898