Anger Management, Part 2

Anger is a huge topic to try to fit in a blog or a 20 minute sermon, so here is Mind-body-spirit-Help-me-godwhat I’d like to say in a really small nutshell: Anger throws off our mind-body-spirit balance and we need to learn to address it in healthy ways. Having said that, let me back up into that.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

In the last few weeks I’ve come to realize that we, as people, like our anger. We don’t want to be told to calm down. We don’t want to consider letting it go. We don’t even want to believe it is rooted in something else. For the most part, what we want is to justify our anger. It gives us energy, albeit negative energy. I get it. But I also know at the heart of my being that anger isn’t the answer.

Yes, feeling anger is a normal part of the human experience. Even the smiley, peace-filled Dalai Lama has admitted to feeling anger. I figure if he’s still dealing with it at times, the rest of us have no hope of banishing it. But that isn’t the point anyway.


Yes, anger can be a useful emotion. Anger can alert us to something that is not right in a relationship or a situation. And it may spur us to get out of that situation. Anger at injustice may motivate us to help change a situation. Or it can point to something that has been triggered within us that needs to be attended to.

But living in anger throws off our equilibrium. That perfectly balanced mobile of mind-body-spirit gets out-of-whack. How can my spirit feel peace if my mind is running in vicious angry circles? How can my body be healthy when it experiences the detrimental effects of the tension and stress anger brings?

So, how do we regain our balance?

The spiritual path is first and foremost a path of self-awareness. Instead of allowing ourselves to run away with our anger, we need to understand it, and then figure out what we need to do with it. Anger is always about a deeper emotion – pain, fear, grief, sadness, longing, loneliness, guilt. To understand our anger, we need to sit with it long enough and with enough gentleness to see what underlying emotion has been triggered. Anger at my daughter’s soccer coach because she is sitting my daughter on the bench may have triggered my own feelings of rejection and not being good enough as a kid. See how that works? It’s tricky that way.

Sometimes I have to walk (really fast), or ride my bike (really hard) or pound on my piano until I’ve calmed my soul enough to address what is really going on with me. Almost always my anger has triggered some fear within me. Dealing with the fear means I’m not lashing out at someone for pushing a button in me they didn’t intend to push.

The other thing we can do is channel anger into a creative outlet. If we’re angry at politics, or the way animals are treated, or domestic violence, then perhaps we should get involved and work for change instead of just ranting and raving.

The medical community is clear about the effects of anger. Chronic, prolonged or repressed anger can result in one of any number of health issues including heart disease, high blood pressure, skin disorders, cancer, chronic pain, fatigue, alcohol and drug abuse.

The Buddha said, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

I know this is much more difficult than it is. I know because I struggle with it, too. But I struggle with it because I don’t like being out of balance. It feels awful. Perhaps together we can work on our anger management.




Anger Management Part 1

Anger. The more I pondered this topic for a sermon, the more confusing it got. Scripture exhorts us to not let anger become a sin and to “turn the other cheek.” But the Old Testament God got angry all the time and even Jesus turned over the tables of the money-changers in the temple. We seem to be getting mixed messages. And the more I looked, the more I found contradictions. Before I could even deal with the topic of our anger, I had to deal with the Biblical contradictions. Hence, this sermon became part one, and in two weeks, we’ll have “Anger Management, Part 2.”

Think of all the differing messages of anger in Scripture. God gets angry at Adam and Eve and throws them out of the Garden of Eden. God sends the great flood to kill off everyone but Noah and his family because humanity was so evil. The primary modus operandi in the Old Testament was “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” God strikes Uzzah dead simply for touching the Ark of the Covenant when he tries to keep it from falling.  The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were so wicked that God smote them. There are many more examples, but then on the other side of that we have Jesus telling us to love our enemies and love our neighbors as ourselves. The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” has it’s roots in the laws of Moses.

In my research I found an article in Christianity Today  in which the author assures us that if God got angry, it was a for a perfectly good reason. Sure, he said, these might be tough passages, but we should study them and understand them so that we wouldn’t be embarrassed if someone confronted us about them.  His bottom line was, “Yahweh gets mad to protect his law, his honor, and his relationship with his people. Would you want to follow a God that wasn’t passionate about his relationship with you?” Really? This is why people joke about lightning striking them, and as far as I know either God really doesn’t work this way, or God isn’t a very good aim.

So, how about looking at this from a more rational perspective. All ancient Gods personified people, their behaviors, faults, actions. Just look at the stories of the Greek Gods. They were always getting angry, starting wars, committing adultery, kidnapping people, blessing those they favored, falling in love, and seeking revenge. Just like humans. Yahweh was no different. Yahweh was blessing old couples with babies, taking sides in a battle, sending people into exile, striking the first-born dead, getting jealous, proclaiming love for his people, anointing kings, or consorting with the goddess Asherah (go ahead, ask me about the temples condemned in the OT because Asherah and Yahweh were worshiped together.)

In addition, ancient people believed that all things that happened were because God either favored them or was angry at them. The Bible was not a historically factual document. It was written by many men, all trying to share their experiences and understanding of Yahweh.

By the time of Jesus, we see a shift in God. Now there is more emphasis on God’s love and constant presence than there is on God’s judgment and wrath (though there is still some of that). I believe the shift signaled a growing spiritual maturity and a very slow evolution in spiritual matters.

Two thousand years after Jesus we better have grown a little more in this department. In fact, psychology today tells us that emotional, physical and spiritual violence is detrimental to a person. Seems like that should’ve been a no-brainer, but some people won’t listen until it is a formal study. Violence is bad. Violence is almost always a result of anger. God and Jesus are not exempt from this. Divine anger and violence is not acceptable and is completely contradictory to an all-loving, all-forgiving Divinity. I simply can’t do the mental gymnastics to make that work in my head. And I shouldn’t have to.

It was OK for God to kill disobedient people? No. If God is that powerful, then why not just make the bad people good? The stories are to justify our own behavior toward other people. We use God’s name to justify vilifying another religion or race or culture. I’m sick of it.

What would happen to Christianity if God were no longer viewed as an angry/punishing God? With no threat of hell. With no demand for a human sacrifice to right the sins of humanity. What then is our relationship with God? What then is our relationship with ourselves and with one another?

Then we will come to a more mature relationship with the Holy One where we do not use God’s name to justify violent acts or words. We will take responsibility for our actions and the consequences of our actions. We will not justify our anger by saying we were created in the image of an angry God. And perhaps we will even recognize that psychology and spirituality can not be divided. Perhaps we’ll learn that there are healthy ways to deal with our emotions.

And this is where we’ll pick up again in two weeks.



Limitations and Spirituality

We had a little fun in worship yesterday when I asked for a few volunteers to see how many multi-colored plastic Easter eggs they could hold in their hands and arms before dropping them. Our high score was 22, but I managed to pile a few more on top of that!

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Wayne Muller, in his book “a life of being, having, and doing enough” (yes, there are no capital letters in the title), uses the metaphor of holding eggs to talk about all the things we try to do in our lives. The eggs symbolize our relationships, dreams, work, passions, hobbies, tasks, children, love, and more. We start collecting eggs when we’re children, and as we grow we collect more and more eggs. What we seem to have a problem coming to grips with is the fact that we can only hold a finite number of eggs before we’re going to drop one, or more.

I googled “limitations” and the quote that came up most often was “Know your limitations and defy them.” That’s exactly the mentality of our society. We believe we have to keep pushing to do it all, and then some. It feels like failure or weakness to say “no” to a request. We don’t want to accept that we can’t hold more eggs, and we’re disappointed in ourselves and others when we refuse to pick up one more.limitations

The reality is that living and loving require us to make difficult choices every day. Love, friendships, good and productive work, play, hobbies, home, kids, kindness, goodness… all require time and effort. And more than that, they require our full, unhurried, undistracted attention. But we have a finite number of hours in the day. We don’t like to admit it, but we can’t do it all. We convince ourselves that we can take on just one more thing, one more task, one more friendship, one more whatever, but sometimes that one more ends up being the one that brings down another egg… if not the whole pile.

Even if we don’t completely drop any eggs, the more we try to do, and the thinner we try to spread ourselves, the less nourishing those relationships or things become. And on top of that we need rest! We need down time to regroup, relax, renew ourselves.

Even Jesus knew the value of this. When his disciples were exhausted and hadn’t even had time to eat, he sent them away by themselves to rest and eat. Over and over again, after teaching and ministering to crowds of people, he went off by himself to pray, center and regain his energy. And he only had a small group of people that he was close enough to call “friends.”

Here’s the bottom line: the spiritual life is about balance – body, mind and spirit. Trying to hold too many eggs throws off our balance, ensures we do nothing as well as we should, and results in our relationships being more superficial than deep and meaningful.

If we ignore our limitations for too long we’ll end up stressed out and burnt out. We’re trying to give that which we don’t have to give and we’re depleting our energy and putting ourselves at risk of physical illness and emotional depression and anxiety.

There are many causes of stress, and some of them simply can’t be avoided. Sometimes we have to carry the eggs as best we can, knowing we won’t have to carry them forever, but finding ways to make it easier. Share your egg with someone else occasionally. Talk to someone about how hard it is to carry so many eggs. Set a few eggs down for a bit.

Wee have basic limits to our energy and we are not a failure, or weak, or not good enough, if we acknowledge those limits and seek to live by them. In fact, the opposite is true. Understanding the limits of our time and energy helps us to give our best to the relationships and things that are the most important to us, including time for ourselves, our health, our souls.

Love & Light!