Posted by: Botolff | September 19, 2010

The Projection of Rage

One of the most valuable, misunderstood and threatening emotions is anger.  I believe it is one of the most valuable because any great movement against injustice has required a certain amount of anger in order to press against the oppressors.  I think it is often misunderstood because we are taught, particularly in church, that it is bad.  Simple question…If anger is so bad, why did Jesus flip the tables over in the temple, and face the Pharisees with some of the most harsh language of the day in Matthew 23. “Hypocrites!”? “Blind guides!”?  “Brood of vipers!”?  Enough said?  I think it is one of the most misunderstood because it can be frightening, so we often don’t want to even think about it long enough to understand it, or we want to instantly quiet the one(s) expressing it, because we are afraid of it.  I think it can be one of the most threatening because rage can quickly follow anger.  It’s rage I want to talk most about today.

Rage is almost always sinful.  I say almost, because it may take a certain amount of rage for a victim to fight their way out of the clutches of their attacker/abuser.  Rage may be justified under very limited circumstances.  I won’t get into any of the ways rage may be perpetuated outside of human interaction.  Frankly, it doesn’t happen as often outside of human interaction as it does within it.  Why?  Because rage is about control, and inanimate objects can’t be frightened enough to control.  Rage is taking the legitimate and valuable emotion of anger and introducing fear and control.  Take the term “Road Rage” adopted in the late 80’s.  The idea of one driver becoming angry enough that they intend to frighten, intimidate or even harm another driver who has “upset” them.

Rage is an attempt to control.  We may see it in some 4 year olds who can’t have the candy bar in the checkout isle.  We may see it in a teenager who tags a beautiful mural on the side of the road with his/her gang symbols.  We see it in many adults, like the man who used to come into a Starbucks I worked at, and then storm out again (throwing the door open hard enough the glass rattle) when his drink wasn’t waiting for him when he walked in the door.  But some, whose lives are primarily directed by the need for control have found manipulative ways to express their rage.  It’s part of remaining in control.  The problem is, we weren’t meant to have that kind of control.  That’s why, when the control slips away, the rage will come to the surface.  And if we are unwilling to acknowledge and address that level of rage when it bubbles up in us, then we will go on to perpetuate it elsewhere.

I saw what I believe is this kind of rage in the pastor’s wife at the church that I was forcefully terminated from…a few times.  One particular time stands out in my mind over the others, because not only was it the most intense, but more importantly, one of the students in the youth group I oversaw, and she volunteered in, was the target of it.  During youth group one night, very close to the time I was forced out, we were playing a game; batting balloons around the room.  Some students grabbed balloons and began drawing faces on them, personalizing a balloon.  After they had faces on the balloons they would toss them back into the middle of the room to be batted around some more.  A couple of the balloons got popped, and that’s when the pastor’s wife grabbed one of the students drawn on balloons, looked him right in the eyes with one of the most wicked looks I have ever seen, and popped his balloon with a sharpy pen.  How powerful was her look?  Strong enough to cause this high school boy to actually physically move from sitting up on the couch, to curled up in the fetal position lying down acting like he was sucking his thumb.  Her look turned this teenage young man into an instant two year old for a few moments.  Although it became obvious to me pretty quickly that she was rageful, and something wicked was taking place, it was the words of one of the other students in the room that verified it.  A young man sitting across from her actually sat forward in his spot on the couch, pointed right at her, and said these words…”Did you see that look she gave him?  That was the most evil look I have ever seen someone give.”  He was right on the mark with that one.  It was a student in the youth group that caught her in her rage and actually named, out loud so everyone could hear him, the wickedness that was taking place.  He is a brave young man.  I don’t think he even realized just how brave.

I wonder if that story has ever been told.  I would understand why the students wouldn’t want to share anything about it, considering the amount of shame and fear that was in the room that day.  I tried to confront the pastor’s wife about her look later and she would have nothing to do with it; denying her look was ever wicked, mean, rageful, evil, etc.  When I talked to her a number of times about addressing it in the group, she refused.  She would never admit that there was a problem with her look.  Instead, I was left with the rage of the way she treated our students in that moment, and at other times.  Left to try and address that problem and others without the support of anyone in leadership in the church.  They were already in the process of getting rid of me.

Rage can be projected.  That night one of the students particularly was the target of her rage.  In more than one situation, I was meant to feel the rage of the pastor’s wife and react rageful in response; so that there would be something to blame me for.  It was masterful.  Thankfully I was becoming aware of my own emotional responses to her, and was able to hold back most of that sharp edge of my anger.  I did react strongly to her a few times though, and that’s when I realized something was seriously wrong with the situation.  With the help of others, including my counselor and the mediator we met with,  I have been able to see how the strength in my reactions was legitimate and well placed.  Back then however, I was in tears when I confessed to the head of the missions department and the head elder that I reacted to her in ways that I had not reacted to most people in my life, and that I didn’t like what I saw in myself in those moments.

In the case of forced terminations, or any other situation that just doesn’t seem right, we are all responsible, if only for the sake of our children, to do the holistic research necessary to find out who is responsible for what happened, and then act accordingly.  But sometimes it takes more work than we are often willing to offer, or we are too scared to do it.  So, we sacrifice people in order to keep the secrets.

In regards to rage, it is likely we will all experience this kind of rage some time in our lives.  Because if we think we won’t/don’t, that is when it is most likely to surface.  Again, it’s not a matter of if, it’s when.  For some it will be more often than the majority.  For some, particularly those who refuse to admit it and get help for it, their rage will be perpetuated whenever their control is really challenged.  It could be subtle, or seem well contained.  That doesn’t mean it’s any less damaging.  Often it is more.  The solution…repentance.  But in order to get to repentance, someone usually needs to get angry…at the right people.

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