“Asa, I have enjoyed reading about your spiritual journey, and your quest for peace and fulfillment. Honestly, I wish I could go there with you, but I am still too gnostic in my belief system, and still too filled with rage. But hey, I am trying. Peace.” The Field Negro.
This comment from my brother, the one and only The Field Negro, was in regards to my series on the commitment to my spiritual transformation for this year. I read it as I was comtemplating what the essence of the content of my blog on character development would be, in relation to a 3-day personal development workshop that was included in a supervisors course I had recently attended. This program, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, by a Dr. Stephen Covey, focused on character as opposed to personality development. As I was trying to assess my feelings and organize my thoughts on the themes of the workshop, the above comment moved me into a different realm. Did my quest for peace and fulfillment mean that I could not be filled with rage? If that was the case then my quest had already failed, because I am constantly filled with rage and it is a growing rage. AND the very basis of this rage is due to my character and it’s continual development.
Before I continue, let me make a comment on this statement “Honestly, I wish I could go there with you, but I am still too gnostic in my belief system…” I am not one who believes that “peace and fulfillment” and/or character development for that matter, is only achieved through a spiritual process, particularly Christianity. There are many people who are on their own personal journeys towards these goals (or have already reached them), based on religious, spiritual, political, ideological or some other esoteric beliefs system. Yes, even a “gnostic” one. I pray that I stay humble on my own quest to never lose sight of this truth.
Nevertheless, I don’t believe that being a Christian automatically means that one should not have rage. I read in the Bible where Jesus at points was filled with rage. During his clearing of the Temple of the moneychangers and other sellers (Mathew 21:12). His rage was evident when he addressed the religious leaders of His day by the terms, “Vipers, Hypocrites, You are of your father the Devil” etc., in regards to how they mistreated the people. Paul states in Ephesians 4:26: “Be angry, and yet do not sin….” The issue is what causes your rage and how you channel it. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were motivated by the rage they felt due to the mistreatment of Black people by American society. Mahatma Ghandi was motivated by the rage he felt due to the mistreatment of native Indians by the British. Fidel Castro was motivated by the rage he felt due to the mistreatment of his fellow Cubans by the oligarchs led by General Fulgencio Batista. Mother Teresa was motivated by the rage she felt by the mistreatment of the poor… the untouchables in India, by the wider society. I could go on and on with other examples, but the point here is that these people and many others, both famous and ordinary, channeled their rage into doing something positive for the less fortunate and oppressed around them (and yes I do include Fidel Castro!). What is it that all these people, then and now… today… and those tomorrow have in common? CHARACTER!
So let me now go to “Character vs. Personality”. “The Purpose-Driven Life” by Reverend Rick Warren provided me with the basic understanding of the difference between these two concepts. Books and seminars on “Personality Development” usually are about “self-help” concepts and strategies. They approach the subject from “a self-centered” viewpoint: “clarify your values; figure out what you are good at; set your goals; believe you can achieve your goals; etc. The “Dress for success” and “the look good and you’ll feel good” mantras are preached along with these tools for success. There is nothing wrong with these concepts and they can be the basis of personal development and material success. However they have nothing to do with Character Development.
Similarly, according to the Covey principle, one has to imagine a tree, where the “root”, that which is not seen… under the ground… is character. What people do see… what is above ground, is our personality, i.e. our image, techniques and skills we portray. Personality can influence our success but the real source of lasting effectiveness lies in a strong character. This was the one thing of great value I got from the 3-day Steven Covey workshop and it can be summed up in his quote:
“Our first energies should go to our own character development, which is often invisible to others, like the roots that sustain great trees. As we cultivate the roots, we will begin to see the fruits.”
The fruits. There are many reverences in the Bible to the fruits that are seen, which are produced from the roots of spiritual character development. Jesus stated in Mathew 7:17 and 20: “Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. So then you will know them by their fruits.” Paul in Ephesians 5:9 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit “consists in every form of kindly goodness, uprightness of heart and trueness of life.” I think it is also significant what Paul didn’t say, i.e., that the fruits were produced from religion!
Let me end by returning to the comment by the Field. My spiritual transformation, which is the basis of my character development, does stimulate a rage within me. A rage against injustice and the mistreatment of the political and economic powerless. This is not only normal and expected, but according to Jesus, what I do with that rage, how I channel it, the fruits it produces, will be the basis upon which He will judged me (read Mathew 25: 31-46).
So Field, like you I am trying. Pray for me and I’ll pray for you, that God will transform our rage into the wisdom and strength to be fruitful.