Posts Tagged ‘anger’

First, Be Reconciled

 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.  Matthew 5:23-24

We live in increasingly angry times, or so it seems to me. Perhaps our expectations of ourselves and others have been set so high that it is impossible for them to be met. In an age of photo-shopped images and unreal “reality” TV, perfection has seemingly become the new normal. No one measures up to that standard and many of us resent the self-imposed expectation that we could or should. On the rare occasions when I watch the news, I see stories of anger manifesting in families, schools, and workplaces. Whether we are stuck in traffic, annoyed by political commentary, or offended by the thoughtless actions of another, we are quick to become angry and slow to forgive. In many ways our self-righteous anger has morphed into the lifeblood of our society – if we are not angry about something, it seems we cannot be alive to the moment.

I am not implying there is nothing worthy of our anger. Hunger, homelessness, poverty, child and spousal abuse, injustice and oppression in their many manifestations, all should fill us with fury, and a commitment to action. My point is not that we should never be angry, but that it is not helpful to respond to anger with more anger. Becoming angry is a hollow, unhealthy emotion if it goes no further than being an emotion. When we sit in our easy chair, point our finger at the television and scream, “Someone should do something about that!” we are correct. Someone should do something about it. Unfortunately, we miss the point whenever we think the someone who should do something is someone else.

Where we stray from Jesus’ teachings about anger is when we demand retribution or retaliation when confronted with injustice or inconsiderate behavior. Jesus did not preach retribution or retaliation; Jesus taught reconciliation, and the difference is profound. Anger separates us from others and tells us, in essence, that we are better, more righteous, or more Christian than they. Jesus encourages unity with others, honoring and respecting the diverse ways in which each person manifests God’s presence in the world. This is especially true in our churches, where Jesus tells us to first be reconciled to our brothers and sisters before we offer our gifts at the altar. Anyone preaching hatred, intolerance, punishment, retribution, or retaliation from the pulpit is, in my opinion, not faithfully relaying the message of Christ. In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus responds, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven times.” In a word, always.

Anger is a gift from God intended to motivate us to action, not a sword to divide us one from another. It is the energy and passion that empowers our words and actions. We do well to remember, however, that that which upsets us is almost always a reflection of some deeply repressed dissatisfaction within our own being. Therefore, humility is always a wise companion to anger.

In the 1970’s movie Network1, a former news anchor played by Peter Finch goes into an on-air rant, encouraging people to stick their head out the window and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” The movie pans to scenes throughout the country where people yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Being mad is neither the problem nor the solution, however. The problem comes when we focus outside of ourselves first, blaming and demanding change from others, before assessing our internal motivations and responsibilities. Yes, we should be mad as hell; and yes, we should do something about it. This is our world – yours and mine – and it is our responsibility to make it better for everyone. Our righteous anger can help us do so, but meaningful change begins within.

Once we have lovingly reconciled with our brothers and sisters – and our spouses, parents, children, co-workers, neighbors, strangers-on-the-street, immigrants, and those of different ethnicities and orientations – then can we lay our offerings at the altar in peace.

This is the 19th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

 Prefer to listen? Check out Life Notes Podcasts at www.ContemplatingGrace.com/podcasts

1           Network, motion picture. United Artists. 1976.

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 35: Anger is a Secondary Emotion

Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. Ephesians 4:26

There are too many times on too many days that I experience anger. Sometimes, it is my own anger; other times, I am the target of the anger of another. Anger crops up at work, at home, in traffic, in politics, and yes, even at church. Some people are quick to get angry, but then calm down in short order. I am the opposite. Usually, it takes quite a lot to arouse my anger and, once angry, I can stew for days or weeks.

Our anger, however, is not a primary emotion. Although anger commands a lot of attention, it always masks something else. We may consider someone an angry person, but he or she is more likely a person whose anger is stimulated easily, quickly, and often. If we want to get to the heart of anger – ours or that of another – we must look deeper. It starts with an event that we interpret as threatening. It is the threat, real or perceived, that generates the anger. Once we are angry, any number of consequences may ensue, many of them unpleasant. To effectively deal with anger, we must first identify the threat preceding it and understand why it triggers feelings of vulnerability. In identifying and examining the threat, we may realize we have exaggerated the risk, often to the point of absurdity. For example, when someone cuts us off in traffic, we may lay on our horn and yell, “What are you trying to do, kill me?” The triggering event is the car pulling in front of us, the threat is our perceived imminent death at the hands of a homicidal maniac, and the result is anger.

Anger, once aroused, can lead to acts of verbal, emotional, or physical violence, and therein lays the problem. Many everyday events threaten us. When we examine the event and our initial reaction to it we can recognize our fear, humiliation, indignation, annoyance, or any of many emotional responses, and we can begin to understand that none of these events require us to become angry. The anger, the secondary emotion, is a choice, albeit often an unconscious and unhelpful one. The challenge is to become consciously aware enough to allow ourselves to decide whether to react in anger. Too often, our anger bursts out uninvited, leaving a mess we immediately regret.

Relationships are fertile ground for anger because no strong relationship is possible without a willing and shared vulnerability. What would not be a triggering event in other circumstances can lead to an emotional explosion between people in close, regular proximity to each other. A dish not rinsed before going into the dishwasher, dirty clothes left on the floor, a car left nearly empty of fuel – all can leave us feeling unappreciated, belittled, or invisible. If we are not intentional and measured in our response, anger will ensue.

The challenge for me, as with most of the choices I make, is to take the time to assess my reactions to the countless stimuli around me. Why do certain things threaten me so? What am I afraid of? Will this matter a year from now? How does this compare to the challenges faced by those in third-world countries, or to the parent whose child has cancer? I find perspective helpful when analyzing emotions, just as analyzing the triggering events and my initial responses are helpful in exploring my anger. When I am the object of someone else’s anger, it is sometimes helpful to ponder, “What have I done that this person perceives as threatening?” Writing him or her off as just an angry, unpleasant person is not helpful or instructive – something is hurting them. Questions like these help me accept responsibility for the anger around me, which is important because I cannot improve a situation until I accept at least some responsibility for its creation.

Anger is a secondary emotion. How did I miss that?

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Life Notes

Love is not Resentful

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful… 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Resentment is an indignant feeling of ill will because of something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury. The act or acts associated with the resentment may or may not have been done intentionally, intended for the person who is now resentful, or an act that others would consider wrong, insulting, or injurious. Resentment is an individual perception, and as such is a choice we make. We can be wronged or injured and not become resentful, although we may experience disappointment or anger. When we do not express our feelings of anger or disappointment about something that truly bothers us, we repress those feelings and become resentful. Like a over inflated balloon, repressed emotions explode when exposed to heat.

In the context of a loving relationship, resentfulness is a double-edged sword, meaning it cuts both partners. Nelson Mandela, the South-African revolutionary, put it succinctly: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” When we give others the silent treatment, we are likely resentful of something. We want him or her to repent of their sin(s) and treat us as we believe we deserve to be treated. Resentment is an immature, self-serving way to treat others, as well as an ineffective way to achieve what we want. Humans (particularly husbands) are terrible mind readers. When we need an apology or a behavioral change but we are not willing to confront the offending behavior, we are not very serious about building or maintaining a strong, healthy relationship; nor are we likely to be successful.

None of this is to say there are not behaviors worthy of resentment – intentionally cruel behaviors, for example. If we are in a loving relationship and the other person does not respond in positive ways to our sincere needs, the relationship is not a good one for us. In those cases, our resentment is more likely to hurt us than the other.

It is clear why the apostle Paul lists resentfulness as not characteristic of love. Love involves the actions we do for and with another. When our regular response to a relationship is resentment, the relationship is not a healthy or loving one for either party.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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Life Notes—July 18, 2013 

“Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.  Do not fret—it leads only to evil.”  Psalm 37:8

Most of the time I am an even-tempered person.  Of course I get annoyed when my computer takes longer than normal to start up.  I do not appreciate when someone cuts me off in traffic.  And yes, I can get downright mad when relatively petty annoyances begin to pile on top of each other.  Sometimes my anger even overrides my self-control and words spew out of my mouth that would otherwise remain within.  I am seldom proud of my outbursts of anger and am thankful they tend to be rare.  I teach at a leadership institute one week out of the year and I tell the leaders-to-be that expressed anger should be a tool they use sparingly.  While they should not allow themselves to be controlled by their anger, applied strategically and sparingly anger can be an effective teacher and motivator.

But the fifth of the seven deadly sins is not anger.  It is wrath.  Wrath is anger on steroids.  It is also referred to as rage and manifests as uncontrollable, highly-charged emotional feelings of hatred and loathing.  It can lead to violent behaviors directed towards one’s self or others.  It can persist long after the presumed cause of the wrath is dead and gone.  The key is that it is uncontrolled and/or wildly excessive; meaning appropriate control has been lost and any number of unfortunate or unintended consequences may result.  Suicide is sometimes described as wrath turned inward.

In this series of essays on the Seven Deadly Sins I have defined sin as that which separates us from God.  The Seven Deadly Sins are considered the primary, or the originating sins which lead to most other types of sin.  These primary sins are identified as lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.  While anger is a normal emotion everyone experiences to a greater or lesser extent and frequency, wrath takes anger to dangerous heights.  Where anger tends to dissipate relatively quickly, wrath boils ever near the surface, ready to explode in an emotional and destructive eruption with little provocation.  In a word, wrath leads to evil.

Wrath makes us unpleasant, unpredictable and sometimes dangerous to be around.  As such, it separates us from and even destroys our relationships with others.  Since we are called to be in relationship with others, it also separates us from God’s purposes for our lives.  It makes us less useful as tools for God’s work on earth.  And it makes us miserable as individuals.  In the words of William Cullen Bryant, “And wrath has left its scar—that fire of hell has left its frightful scar upon my soul.”

Tom will be preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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