More than once, I’ve honked my horn at a distracted driver at a traffic light. I wasn’t angry or even annoyed about being held up, I simply was trying to let the driver know it was time to move on, the traffic light had turned green.
It never occurred to me that such a simple act could set someone off, anger them so much they’d want to kill me.
But that’s the way the world rolls these days. Any perceived offense, no matter how small, can turn bad pretty quickly.
I hadn’t thought much of this until last week when I read in this newspaper about a pair who didn’t take too kindly to a driver honking his horn at them while stopped at a light.
It seemed like a small thing but they saw red. Instead of taking a deep breath and counting to 10, these guys followed the driver home and fired a warning shot.
The men, later identified as Marlo Pinnock and Richard Perry, were so angry, in fact, that they returned to the man’s Kennesaw subdivision two days later and fired several rounds at the man’s home.
Thanks to a neighbor who saw and reported them, Perry and Pinnock were arrested, but what’s troubling is these kinds of things happen pretty regularly here and across the country.
In July, police arrested lawyer Victoria Lockard at her Buckhead home after she allegedly threw a coffee mug into the window of a car driven by Maura Gerke.
Gerke, 21, said she was leaving her job at the Terminus building in Buckhead when she honked her horn at the Atlanta attorney because she was not turning fast enough.
Lockard then pulled up beside her and began honking at her. Gerke flicked off the driver and, well, you know what happened next.
As I thought about these incidences, I was reminded of a talk I had a few years ago with the Rev. Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist in Atlanta.
Stanley had just written a book on the subject, titled “Surviving in an Angry World.”
Sometimes, I wonder. Sometimes, the way tempers are flaring, I wonder if any of us will ever feel safe again. At home. In the workplace. Even our houses of worship. We’re mad at our colleagues. Our loved ones. Complete strangers.
An Ohio woman, angry because her husband didn’t buy her a Valentine’s Day gift, attacked him with a baseball bat. Christians expressed their anger last year over Starbucks cups because they lacked symbols marking Christmas holiday. A restaurant manager was bitten by an angry customer for getting her order wrong.
Anger isn’t necessarily a negative emotion, I’ll give you that. We all have felt it at one time or another. The problem comes when we express it in a way that dishonors God and each other.
Stanley told me that anger can take two forms: righteous or unrighteous.
“Unrighteous anger … is self-centered and expressed in destructive ways,” he said.
It makes us disagreeable, argumentative and easily offended by minor incidents, and therefore distorts our character, damages relationships and negatively impacts those with whom we work and live.
“When people don’t cooperate with our plans or don’t appreciate our efforts, or when events don’t work out our way, we feel anger,” Stanley said.
People don’t like to think of this in spiritual or religious terms, but I can’t help it, especially when I see adults throw temper tantrums, or worse, act out in a passive-aggressive manner.
I know we like to point to all the ills in the African-American community. There are plenty if that’s what you need to feel a little bit better about your own house.
But a pretty big part of me feels we could all benefit from a little introspection.
At an Easter service Sunday, I was reminded of the conversation Jesus had with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion when he said that one of them would betray him.
“Is it I?” they asked.
We try to avoid looking too deeply into our souls, and even when we do, too often it is through the filter of excuses, our biases and the stories we tell ourselves in order to justify our actions. And so we flick our fingers, raise our voices and shake our fists at each other.
But in that simple question — Is it I? — rests the beginning of wisdom, a path in many instances to personal and lasting change.
Being able to see ourselves clearly is essential to our well-being and those around us. We can’t do that if we’re always measuring ourselves against other human beings.
It’s important we see ourselves as God does. That mirror is best found in the Scriptures.
Instead of looking for the mote in our brother’s eye, take a breath and ask: “Is it I?”
Those of us who do not wish to change probably will not. Those of us who do will experience the miracle of God’s peace in and around us.
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