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The Orlando Shooting and My Holy Anger

by: John Winslow, Washington D.C. 15, Outreach Coordinator, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Gonzaga University 15.

Originally posted on the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Jesuit Volunteer Reflects blog.

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”
–attributed to St. Augustine

Growing up in a Christian, church-going family, I heard from my faith leaders every Sunday about qualities I should aspire to manifest as a follower of Christ: compassion, loving-kindness, peace, and piety, among others. Accordingly, followers of Christ must not be: mean, gossipy, cowardly, or faithless.

Or angry. Good Christians should never get angry. Or, rather, when they do, they should acknowledge that anger is sinful.

When I was fourteen, I was blessed with the opportunity to see Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak together at an interfaith conference in Seattle. What I still remember, more than anything else, is the question one young woman asked. She was powerful, Black, eloquent, and angry. “What are we supposed to do with this anger, this crippling, overwhelming anger at racism and sexism and poverty and every other injustice in the world? How do we remain loving in the face of destruction?”

I expected the religious leaders to say something about prayer, or meditation, or channeling our anger into positive action — things I had heard Christian leaders say in the past. Archbishop Tutu shocked me when he said, “It’s something to be thankful for when you lose your cool. When we say to God, ‘How can you? How can you let this, that and the other thing happen?’”

One of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps’ four values is spirituality. Throughout this year I have had opportunities to pray in Reconstructionist Jewish Temples and Sikh ones, to break bread with Baha’i men in their living room and attend a Southern Baptist ordination service. I have learned to see God as One who speaks through experiences and traditions outside my own with equal eloquence, a God who has surprised me over and over again by showing up where I never expected. While my spirituality has grown in innumerable ways through having such diverse experiences, the most unexpected place I have found God this year has been in my anger.

At my JVC work placement, I read letters from individuals serving life without parole for crimes they committed as children, individuals who are often victims of child abuse before they enter prison and are victims also of rape, beatings, racism, and a justice system built on their backs. I receive heart-wrenching phone calls from family members who want nothing more than for their child to come home again. To say that these injustices make me angry is a gross understatement.

And, after the massacre at Pulse in Orlando that left 50 dead and 53 injured — and innumerably more permanently psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually scarred — I am angrier than I thought possible.

I am angry that most Catholic leadership seems incapable of acknowledging the existence of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, even in our deaths.

I am angry that people of color are once again bearing the brunt of devastation and slaughter in this country.

I am angry at every single preacher and priest who has said that they are praying for the victims when those same victims are not welcome in their churches, when their lives are considered sinful, when their love is considered unnatural, when the individuals are considered intrinsically disordered.

I am angry that I went to bed that Sunday night wondering what I would text my mother if I knew I were about to die.

I am angry at how angry I have become.

I am angry at God.

And yet, I take refuge in knowing I follow a Jesus who flipped tables in the face of injustice. I follow a Jesus who denounced the hypocrisy of the leaders of His own faith community and in His own place of worship. I follow a Jesus who pleaded with and begged God to change His fate, a Jesus who looked at the injustice of Empire all around Him and, I can only imagine, screamed in pure rage.

I follow a Jesus who bled.

I follow a Jesus who wept.

But particularly after this year as a Jesuit Volunteer, I no longer see anger as contrary to my spirituality, but integral to it. The prophets tell us that God looks at the injustices human beings inflict upon one another and is enraged. Rather than see this is a judgmental, negative attitude motivated by vengeance, this year has taught me that, for Christians, anger is about the refusal to stop fighting for justice. It is the refusal of despair and the sister of hope. It is not a desire for revenge, but a desire for justice. The reality is that there is so much to be angry about in this world — and I think that is a holy thing.

So I will keep being angry.