'We should kill them all.'
That was what an acquaintance of mine suggested to me this morning as a response to the bombing in Boston that has killed three and wounded horribly so many more.
His big hands were balled up, jaw tight, eyes direct. He was so angry it radiated a kind of combustible heat.
And I knew exactly what he meant.
After an evening of witnessing the carnage on the streets of Boston, hearing the stories of horror from the hospitals and imagining the Richard family, whose beloved 8-year-old boy is dead, mother seriously wounded and daughter, age 6, whose leg is gone, the natural reaction is horror, grief and intense anger.
We have our teeth bared and fists clenched. I can see it on the streets of New York, and online on the social networks -- we are angry and want a response to Boston.
The question we face now as individuals and as a nation is what to do with our anger. I want to suggest that we first try to look at our anger itself to make sure our response in the days to come reflects who we truly are as a democratic country, and continues to be in concert with the principles of justice and peace that we value.
To that end I propose that there are two kinds of anger -- holy anger and demonic anger. Understanding the difference, and choosing the holy will help us get through this national time of trial as well as bring a true peace to our spirits.
Demonic anger is characterized by a fury that takes over or possesses us. I'm not talking about demons as some sort of external being, but rather the internal radical emotions that, if unchecked, dominates; dictating our thoughts and actions with the most destructive impulses.
We all have demonic anger inside of us that short circuits our normally healthy hearts, minds and spirit and cries out with a lust for immediate revenge and violence. Demonic anger demands a clear target no matter how blunt or unrelated, and compels a fulfillment of our anger, and yet demonic anger is never fulfilled.
It is hard to resist this anger, but resist it we must if we are to ever to experience peace, in our hearts or in our world.
But this doesn't mean that we shouldn't be angry. I am very, very angry. But I am trying to respond to the Boston bombing with holy anger. This means that I take time to stop, to pray, to meditate to ask for wisdom and to not let my anger take over my heart, head and spirit. But rather use holy anger to fuel a response that truly reflects the kind of person of peace, compassion and, yes, justice, that I want to be in this world.
It means I don't let blood lust overcome me and strike out blindly, injuring the innocent. Rather, holy anger inspires me to support the first responders and those investigating the crime. Holy anger requires that I take time out of my supposedly busy day to reflect and pray for those who suffer and if necessary offer financial support. And when we know more, support the effort to bring justice for those who perpetrated this horrible crime.
Choosing the holy over the demonic requires discipline. It requires vigilance and awareness and it tests us. But ultimately choosing holy anger over demonic anger will be a response that authentically honors the victims in Boston.
In his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold Kushner explains the difference between a holy and demonic response to tragedy.
If the death and suffering of someone we love, or tragic events make us bitter, jealous, against all religion, and incapable of happiness, we turn the person who died into one of the "devil's martyrs." If suffering and death brings us to explore the limits of our capacity for strength, love and cheerfulness, if it leads us to discover sources of consolation we never knew before, then we make the person or event into a witness for the affirmation of life rather than its rejection.
By rejecting demonic anger, and choosing holy anger, our response to the horror in Boston in the coming days can be focused on affirming life, rejecting terror and death, refusing to succumb to fear and hate. Our holy response will recognize the need for justice in a world that continues to have so much evil, even while we dedicate our lives to building a future world where horrific events like the bombing in Boston never happen again.