The Anger of God and the Anger at God by Paul Blankenship

Mark Hawthorn

His name was Matthew Hawthorn. He was born on September 26, 1938 in Washington, D.C. He was raised in Connecticut—a state that, you may know, gets its name from a Native American word which means “place of long tidal river.” In 1958, Mark graduated with a BA in English Literature. During his time at UCONN, he was the managing editor of the school paper, The Daily Campus.

In the early 1960s, Mark worked as an intelligence officer for the United States Air Force. He got his call to duty during the Cuban Missile Crisis—when, in the middle of watching a film with his sister, as she recalls, anyway, he abruptly got up and ran off to fight for a cause greater than himself. After serving in the air force, during which time he was stationed in Morocco, Mark joined the Peace Corps.

When he returned home from the Peace Corps, Mark got a job at The New York Times. He began at The Times as a copy boy but, with hard work, and little sleep, he proved his stripes as a reporter. And, as a reporter at one of America’s finest newspapers, Mark fell in love. He married. By the 1970s, he, by many cultural accounts, had it all. The American Dream.

Mark got burnt out, though, trying to climb the ladder of success. The dream didn’t hold steady. Mark quit his job. And that’s when tragedy struck. By sheer dumb luck, he got hit by a city bus in New York City. Mark spent the next year in and out of a hospital with a shattered hip. For reasons unclear to me, Mark also lost his wife during the time of the shattered hip. In 1969, hoping to find a path of light out of the darkness that became his life, Mark relocated to Berkeley, California. He found something of a home on UC Berkeley’s countercultural campus where he’d dress in women’s skirts and dance in the fountain for coins.

By the time he died, in 2017, at the age of 80, Mark had become a local and international celebrity. In Berkeley, where he had been living homeless for decades, he was known as “The Hate Man” or “The Hate Evangelist.” Some, like one of his old disciples, Krash, who I met one night over dinner at a professor’s house, called him “Hate” for short.    

Hate in Berkeley

Berkeley is a wonderful city. When it is not burning in California flames, it is a gorgeous place to move through tall trees and climb a hillside to watch the sun set—in pink and purple and red—over the Golden Gate Bridge. Berkeley is home to one of the best universities in the world and a sacred site for progressive history in the United States – a ground zero for the Free Speech and Civil Rights movements. Berkeley is also thoroughly strange and eclectic. It is a city full of unusual characters. Hate Man is one striking example.

If you’ve ever walked the streets of Berkeley, or driven through its downtown, or wandered up its hills, you are likely to have encountered The Hate Evangelist. He often stood on a street corner saying to people who passed him, and with his middle finger waving at them, “I hate you.” He greeted friends and strangers not with “hello, how are you?” but “I hate you” and “f you” (said without the sermon censor, of course). In fact, Hate Man said he wouldn’t trust a person who didn’t tell him that he hated him. 

Hate Man preached a Gospel of Hate. He was an evangelist for hate. He thought himself a lot like Jesus, actually—except, rather than dispense miracles and positive care, he’d say, he’d dispense cigarettes and negative care.

What Hate preached wasn’t a willy-nilly expression of angst or anger at mankind-a kind of broken man’s song of uncritical discontent. Hate, actually, was a complex philosophy he worked out over decades. It won him disciples. Regularly he was featured in local papers in the Bay Area. Once a film company from Japan came to town and made a documentary about his life. It was far from a pleasant life—the life Hate found himself living when the cruel hand of disaster shattered not just his hip but also his spirit. Through the unpleasantness, however, Hate dug for and found gems of wisdom and healing that he worked out and made real on the streets of Berkeley.

On why love is not loving

In effect, Hate Man thought that the religion of love, which we are all swimming and maybe drowning in, often fails to be loving. It fails to be loving, he thought, because it is often dishonest and manipulative. It fails to be loving moreover, because it doesn’t know what string to strum to soothe our lesser angels; to deal productively, in other words, with our shadows.

Beneath a Christian’s claim to love, Hate taught, is a toxic brew of resentment seeking power through coercion. Love, as it has come to be understood and practiced in our culture, leads many people to think they have to be positive and kind all of the time – and render an unfettered compassion to every person they meet. Hate said that’s rubbish. And he said the devil is in the details. The religion of positive care, he said, of pretending we can love all of the time, and of really trying to force people to go our own way, hasn’t worked. He said it’s been disastrous. It makes people dishonest and confused. A number of brilliant philosophers and writers have agreed with him. His insights weren’t exactly novel. It is why Freud and Nietzsche argued passionate that Christianity is a destructive ruse that renders people disempowered and crazy rather than healthy and fulfilled. That, ultimately, it is weak before the great power of human destruction.

Hate as spiritual care

Hate Man did not preach an entirely destructive message. That wasn’t the real point of his gospel. True to the meaning Gospel, he thought that the power of negative care, of so-called hate, would bring good news. In the heart of his gospel was the beat of compassion and kindness—wit and satire. At stake for him was the human family dealing with their demons, out in the open, so that they’d stay together rather than break apart. He wanted to care for the soul and create genuine peace in the world. It’s all very Quaker.

You see, Hate taught that the expression of hate got our destructive feelings out in the open; that it made people unstuck and free. That’s why he’d say “I hate you,” it’s why he flipped people off. What he aimed to do was to help people safely, consensually, and respectfully express the negative forces that we are all subject to. Hate hated, we could say, to love. In my view, it is a brilliant form of spiritual care.

Now, I won’t suggest that we become hate evangelists. I am not advocating that we include the word “hate” in our new welcome statement or that we rebrand ourselves Spokane Haters. But I think Hate Man has a point that we can learn from and give a Quaker spin to.

Born to Love

Most Christians agree on a central truth. We are beloved: created with care, woven with artistry; intricately and personally made in the image of God, and made into the living God, to be loved and loving—to experience the divine embrace and, from this embrace, love the world.

So we are loved. And we are here to love. The 2,000-year-old Christian story is a long and broken and beautiful love story.

While we probably agree on this point—about the centrality of love—Christians throughout space and time disagree on what love is. And how to find the path to get there. And fiercely so. Probably that’s why we are in this church and not another one. Probably that’s why you consider yourself one kind of Christian and not another kind. The meaning of love possesses almost infinite variance. Not all love, we could say, is loving. We, as a culture, are duking it out to decide what love is.

Many early Christians thought love demanded leaving the empire to live in the desert alone or among friends—to purify themselves from the proverbial demons of secular politics, lust, and greed. In the medieval period especially, many Christians thought love of God demanded whipping oneself with cords to become pure of sin. Since then, Christians have become convinced that they could find the path of love through mysticism, higher education, and the pursuit of social justice. Today many Christians justify horrific political decisions on the basis of Christian love. Unlike our early desert mothers and fathers, many Christians today want to move toward the center of political power rather than away from it.

Love: questions and postures

Given the variance of love, it is important that we always remain humble. That love always be a query that we explore together.

Love is a question, not an answer. We fool ourselves when we think we have the answer—or even the question—of love. We may get small answers to the question of love, but we never get the answer. That is part and parcel of our human condition.

So, love is a question. And it is a question that requires a posture of humility. The question of love, I am suggesting, can only be answered in relationship with each other. One reason for this is because we are easily seduced by whatever physiological or cultural fad is going around. We want constructs and categories to explain our problems and give us tools to solve them, but we forget that reality is more cryptic and complex than our categories and constructs. Ultimately, people won’t fit into the theory of the week.

Love is a question that requires a posture of humility. It also requires the posture of honesty. The purpose of prayer, the theologian Bernard Lonergan said, is to have a long, loving look at the real. It is to place us, with as clear eyes as possible, before the mystery of our lives. It should help us see what is there, what is true. And what do we get when we walk the path of honesty and truth? It’s not all roses. We see some pretty ugly things in front of us, and in the mirror. We see the human drive not just for love but for power and hatred and blood. We see brokenness. We see a center that doesn’t seem to hold.

I hate to admit it. I really do. I love love, but Hate Man is right. We are full of destructive emotion. Though we as a species are made in the image of God to love, we are also terribly hateful. It’s just the truth. Look around. Turn on the news. We abuse the poor, the environment, each other, and ourselves. We are callous and insensitive. We are master manipulators.

Christians have developed diverse ways of dealing with our dark side—with our drive for destruction, that is. That, for example, is where the deep symbol of sin comes from. It is where the profoundly mistaken theology of a violent atonement is born. We have told people that they will go to hell if they veer from the straight and narrow path of our salvation. We tell people to pray away what we don’t like about them; what threatens us and makes us afraid. We call the poor lazy rather than wounded, the rich blessed rather than lucky.

The Anger of God and the Anger at God

Still our world is mad. It is hurting. Because it is hurting, it is hateful. It is important that we be honest: that we see the real darkness in each other and in ourselves. That’s one key to what I am trying to say. We can’t let our gospel of therapeutic love and positive care seduce us into thinking that everything is okay and that people aren’t boiling with anger and rage. Everything is not okay and people are boiling with anger and rage. It is also important that we, like Hate Man, develop spiritual practices that help us safely and respectfully express the pain inside of us. Inside of our culture. Otherwise hate will take over our personalities and make a permanent home in our political houses. That’s the second key to what I am trying to say. I love that we share our joys and concerns and that we talk about how beautiful it is to be together and how amazing it is to be created in the image of God, but I sometimes fear that those things do not adequately allow us to express the destructive emotions we experience.

A Spirituality of Hate

Let me conclude by giving four reasons why it’s important to express our destructive emotions. Let me, that is, lay a kind of groundwork for a spirituality of negative care. Or a spirituality of hate, perhaps. After that, I will propose that we create a practice, together, at Spokane Friends, that can help people in our community express their destructive selves through a spiritual practice in our humble church.

First. We don’t need to be afraid to get angry. Why? Because Jesus. Jesus, our teacher, our beloved, our God, got angry. Let’s not forget: Jesus got pissed. He got pissed, for example, that people made his father’s house a den of thieves and robbers. That the poor were being exploited and extorted in the name of religion. John 2 give us a different image of Jesus than gentle one we often imagine:

15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 

16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 

Second. We don’t need to need to be afraid to express our anger because God already knowns our hearts and loves everything about it. He loves all of our heart beats, whether positive or negative. There is no place inside of you that God doesn’t gaze into with tender acceptance. Being open about our dark side will not be news to God. It, rather, will be an honest confession. Let’s remember Psalm 139:

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.

Third. Being angry and negative invites a spirituality of sincerity and honesty; it is an invitation to a more intimate relationship with God, with the holy. By expressing our negative emotions and thoughts, we invite a more authentic and vulnerable relationship with God. Is that not precisely what God wants from us? Not just our Sunday selves and our kind selves but our whole selves—every part of us? Let me tell you a story. One day, when I began my research in Seattle, I was sitting in a Cathedral. A seemingly homeless woman got up from the pews, walked to the center of the Cathedral and, before leaving, looked up and cursed God. Precisely because it was honest and real, it struck me as one of the holiest moments I ever experienced. I know that God loved her in that moment because I felt God’s love burning side of me. God loved that she expressed her whole self in a sacred place.

Fourth. Here is the most important reason it’s important to allow ourselves to be transparent before God—with all our pounds and pimples and all our anger and rage. When we give our whole selves to God, we are empowered to be more loving in the world. We get release from the destructive side. We get catharsis from what’s inhibiting our drive to love. Hate Man is right on this point. The expression of our negative energy, done safely and in a way that is meant to be constructive and create peace, can be a form of spiritual care. The book of Psalms is full of laments—of real and raging and broken honesty before God. Somehow, we have forgotten how to bring our whole selves, together, before God.  

This week’s query is intended to be personal. I am going to invite us to reflect on how the Spirit might be inviting us to safely explore any destructive emotion that we are experiencing today. Are you mad at God? At others? At yourself? Do you feel hurt and betrayed? In the quiet place of your heart, I encourage you to reflect on that—knowing, again, that a compassionate God who does not Hate is with you, not critiquing you but inviting you to express yourself so that you can grow in love and care for others. That it’s okay to feel as you feel. If someone is impelled to speak before the group, then we will trust the Spirit in them. But I’d like to suggest that this time be personal and quiet, between us and God.

I would also like to propose that we consider have a service in December devoted to expressing anger at God and the world—safe and respectfully, of course. I imagine a line our sign our front: “Mad at God? Let Him have it. Broken and confused? Come share with us.” If we are interested in this, and perhaps we won’t be, there are a number of resources that can assist us in creating a safe and healthy place for people in our community to express the negative emotions they are suffering from. That’s something I think Friends need to think more about. I think we need to care for people who are boiling with rage and anger. I think we need to help become become more free to love.

Query:  Is God inviting you to express a seemingly negative emotion you experience? In the private space of your silence before God, can you name what that emotion is and ask God to help learn how to express it safely and respectfully?  

This message was delivered to Spokane Friends Church by Paul Blankenship on November 3, 2019.

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