“I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’
Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’
So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’”
Do you listen to Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio? I’m often in my car driving between my home in Brockton and my church in Wollaston and my other church in West Medford. So I hear them on the radio. Sometimes coming home at night I hear them again when they repeat it later in on WBUR. This past week they had a segment discussing the 1976 movie “Network.” Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) is a broadcaster facing sliding ratings and various stunts designed to bring viewers back to their televisions.
I can remember seeing it in the movie theater when I was a young person. I found it stirring then and I find it stirring now. Click the link to YouTube and experience the rage of Howard Beale. Rage is frightening. It’s frightening wherever we find it whether it springs from a righteous indignation or suppressed infantile fear. I want to look away. I want to say: “Calm down!” I don’t want to get too close to rage – it feels infectious.
But maybe we need some rage; maybe we need a lot of rage. All kinds of people are mad as hell. What an odd expression: “mad as hell”. Merriam-Webster tells me that mad is:
1: disordered in mind, insane
2: completely unrestrained by reason and judgment, driven mad by the pain, incapable of being explained or accounted for (a mad decision)
3: carried away by intense anger, furious, (mad about the delay)
4: carried away by enthusiasm or desire (mad about horses)
5: affected with rabies, rabid
6: marked by wild gaiety and merriment, hilarious
7: intensely excited, frantic
8: marked by intense and often chaotic activity
I think hell is mad, disordered, unrestrained, furious, rabid, frantic, chaotic, and more. It’s powerful and I feel powerless when I confront it. This past week the news has presented us with a particularly unpleasant example. We were exposed to that dreadful video of the fraternity members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Oklahoma University robustly singing that violent, racist chant. I don’t know how many participated but it sounded unrestrained and rabid and chaotic and profoundly disturbing. It was mad, as mad as I imagine hell, and I believe in my heart of hearts that people in hell know they are in a vile place. It must, as they say, stink to high heaven.
You may know that I am going to be facilitating a series of discussions on Wednesday evenings at Sanctuary UCC on Trending Topics. I want these discussions to be respectful but I also want this to be a place that is not afraid of answering the rage that swirls around us. Why do so many people turn to Jon Stewart and the Daily Show for their news? Why? Because Jon Stewart is not afraid to say when something stinks to high heaven. I want to establish a facilitated environment where sometimes we can be madder than hell. Where can see where the rubber hits the road in Christian theological ethics. We can’t shrug off vileness.
You don’t come to closure with evil; you have to overcome it. Think about the great song of the civil rights movement, “We Shall Overcome.” OVERCOME: defeat, beat, conquer, trounce, thrash, rout, vanquish, overwhelm, overpower. Think immunization, there is a paradox in all this. It shouldn’t surprise you. Jesus is a paradox. We may have to trounce them with love.
We just might have to get madder than hell!