A person of faith has many reasons to be angry. There is such a chasm between what we want and what there is. As we seek to live a life that is in harmony with a wise and loving God the contrast with our foolish and hateful world becomes ever starker.
But what do we do with this anger? How do we use it as fuel to move us forward instead of letting it drag us down into a place of misery and hopelessness?
Twenty five years ago, the people of Chile had every reason to be angry. Since 1973 when he seized power through military coup, General Augusto Pinochet had been governing through state-run terror in the name of anti-communism and economic prosperity. His brutal regime exiled, imprisoned, tortured, and disappeared thousands of political opponents. But by 1988 international pressure had begun to build against Pinochet and he agreed to allow a referendum on his leadership to take place. So confident was he that his people loved him, and that the secret police could take care of those who didn’t, that he granted the opposition fifteen minutes of television time every night for the month leading up to the election.
So the dissidents who had been silenced for so long, had a decision to make: what would be their message to the people of Chile? One faction wanted to communicate with anger; their precious air time should document their suffering–death counts, stories of torture, families in torment over their disappeared loved ones, Could you blame them?
But another faction suggested a radical approach: to give the people of Chile fifteen minutes of hope–a vision of a free society where they could flourish without fear. They proposed upbeat spots with happy families and inspiring music. This is what life might look like, they proposed, without Pinochet. The left was aghast at this proposal, they saw it as turning their back on history, as denying the suffering they had endured, they called its supporters traitors to the cause of freedom.
In the end, the anti-Pinochet campaign used the more hopeful message. Despite the widespread understanding that voting in opposition to the brutal regime was dangerous, the majority of Chileans voted against Pinochet, and for democratic elections. Within two years there was a peaceful transition to a new democratically elected government.
Although this is a story of secular politics, it is has lessons for a community of faith. How do we bring more individuals into the circle of an inclusive church, how do we help them understand God’s unconditional love? Do we dwell on our hurt, recount the injustices perpetrated against us? Well, sometimes, yes, we should. We need to stand as witnesses to suffering and pain. But if that is our only strategy, I believe we are bound to fail.
More often than we may be willing to admit, through God’s transformative power, anger and disappointment with our adversaries can become love and encouragement. This is not easy–it is a formidable act of faith. But we all know that when God tells us to love our neighbor, he’s talking about the neighbor who’s hardest to love. It is my prayer that during this next year we can all try to listen to, learn from, and understand those individuals who threaten us the most. Looking for the divine in the one who has hurt us is one of the most sacred experiences we can have in this life.
I will close with a Cherokee legend:
A grandmother says to her granddaughter, “I have two wolves in my heart. One is loving and the other is vicious. They’re at war with each other.” The grandchild asks, “which one will win?” The grandmother replies, “the one I feed.”