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Starting Point

Aspire to rage like Jesus


Rage Against the Machine.” It’s the name of a band. Their music is what you might expect: heavy metal, iconoclastic, harsh. I only know about them because I live with boy-men who introduce me to music I wouldn’t hear otherwise. I’m grateful for the world opened to me by my sons. It is one of the lasting blessings of motherhood.

I don’t like their music, but I like their name. “Rage” is a good, strong word, though, understandably, it makes nice people nervous. There is a connotation of out-of-control terrorism, murder and mayhem by people who have given up and given in to being out-of-control. But I like the word because it is an active verb: anger that doesn’t just sit there and fester, but anger that makes a difference; anger that is not the opposite of love, but the opposite of apathy. There is nothing fiercer than what Dorothy Day, that woman who raged against the machine on behalf of the poor, called, “a harsh and dreadful love.”

And what is the Machine? It’s the system, the rat race, the world we find ourselves so immersed in that we cannot see it -- except sometimes. Sometimes we get a glimpse or a hint that this is not how we are supposed to live. And when one pursues that glimpse until it becomes a vision, suddenly our lives come into focus and we say, “This is crazy! I’m not going to do this anymore!”

It’s time for a little productive anger, for rage.

Rage against a world of Fast Food that has so propagandized your palate that all that tastes good to you are sugar, salt and grease, food that is not sustenance, that dulls your senses and make your body weak and soft. And then rage against the industry that tells you how ugly you are -- all weak and soft -- and makes you feel so bad about yourself that you tear into a bag of chips and pop open a can of soda and keep the cycle going.

Rage against Big Soda who has convinced you that soda quenches your thirst when in fact it dehydrates, leaving your body a desperate desert that must steal fluid from your organs, including your brain. And when your brain is sucked dry, the synapses are slowed and you find yourself with one of the plethora of mind diseases we call attention deficit disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder and God-knows-what-all, because we are literally dying of thirst.

Rage against a world that is so noisy, jittery and fast-paced that there is no room for the slow walker or the slow thinker or those most human pursuits like reading, writing, art, music and prayer.

Rage against a life that has no time for a simple meal together; those who would sell you a state-of-the-art kitchen in which, standing alone at the counter next to the expensive appliances and the little TV turned to CNN, you gulp down take-out food.

Rage against a world that teaches you to drive a mile to exercise class and suggests that parents are abusing their children if they let them walk to school. Rage against Big Oil and Big Auto who conspired to destroy efficient, inexpensive, public transportation in favor of a highway system that benefits a few while polluting our environment.

Rage against a medical establishment that leaves so many without the most basic health care and forces so many others to work well into their old age just for “benefits” -- and this in the richest country in the world.

Rage against a society that, when you’re looking for adulthood, offers you a beer. When you’re seeking meaning, purpose and something important to do with your energy and life force, issues you a driver’s license.

Rage against a system of education that steals your time -- 13 years or more -- and graduates you without the ability to write a simple declarative sentence, read anything more complex than the newspaper, without the basic skills to survive for two weeks, prepared only for more years of “education.”

But how does a Christian rage? How can our rage be productive, do more than simply destroy?

We can decide to be different, to choose not to fit in. When we do this we find partners in our rage, a community that exists all around us. They are among the teachers, the preachers, the social workers and nurses and doctors, the parents of children who don’t fit, the unsuccessful in this world who have finally stopped blaming themselves, and the successful of this world who wake up one morning and realize that this kind of success is not enough to satisfy the human spirit.

Eventually, there comes a time when we can rage like Jesus, who saw clearly, spoke clearly, lived clearly and rose above it all -- literally! May you be one of his true disciples. And never aspire to anything less.

Paige Byrne Shortal is a pastoral associate in a parish in rural Missouri.

National Catholic Reporter, March 15, 2002