Archive | March 2015

Sometimes I Feel Like an old Bull Dyke….

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.” That song has been running through my head lately, only with the words I used in the title above.

I am a minister.  Being a minister is always hard work.  There is a reason people struggle against a call to ministry.  “Oh no, not me, God, send somebody else.”

But we are called.  We know it deep in our bones and we have to say yes to that call.  Resistance to that call is futile.

Ministers are called to serve, to comfort, and yes, sometimes, to challenge and confront.  I am serving in a specialized kind of ministry, a ministry with a congregation that has a troubled history and long established patterns of dysfunctional behavior.  Ah, but it is also a congregation with a proud history, and it is filled with people yearning for something more that what they have been.   Old patterns are hard to change, however, and this ministry has required me to point out systemic problems and to be relatively firm in maintaining what I consider to be appropriate boundaries.

I never expected this particular ministry to be easy.  I never expected people to agree with everything I thought should be done or not done.  Reasonable and caring people can disagree about how to do things, and any change also brings some loss with it.  Pain and anger are so close together in most of our hearts.  Some anger is to be expected.  I have felt strongly, however, that if I did not raise the issues I thought were important, then I would be failing this congregation in the ways that matter most. Ministry should not be about just coasting along, about taking the path of least resistance, about always doing what some or even most of the people say they want.  Passover is almost upon us. What would it been like if Moses had said, “oh, ok, you all don’t like it here in the desert, sure, let’s just go back to Egypt, no problem.”  And no, I don’t think I am a Moses.  But you know, Moses didn’t see himself that way either: “Send someone else.”

I also expected that some in the congregation would have issues with a minister exercising any real authority, even and perhaps especially over worship.   Quality in worship is important to me.  Mediocre just isn’t good enough to offer to folks that are hurting or who are seeking more meaning in their lives.  We need to hold our worship time as sacred.

What I did not expect, although maybe I should have, was the way the criticisms would play out.  Very little is about actual things I have done or not done.  No, the real critique is pretty much all about my style.

My style is pretty direct.  I grew up working class, among people who said what they thought.  I am also a lesbian, a dyke if you will, and although I don’t identify as transgender, I definitely don’t fit many of the feminine stereotypes.  I come off as both assertive and confident.  I always try to be respectful, but when I have an opinion, I express it clearly.  This style is freaking a few folks out.

It didn’t occur to me for quite a awhile, but in the last week it has become pretty clear that part of the dynamic going on between me and a small group of my congregants is simply because of who I am and what this congregation has experienced in the past.  I am their first openly gay minister.  I am also only the second woman minister in their over 50 years of existence.  This is very unusual for a UU congregation.  We have as members a few gay men, a handful of trans folk, and a number of people who identify as bisexual.  So far anyway, I have met no one else here who is an open lesbian.

This congregation has a history of expressing suspicion and hostility toward most of their ministers.  I expected that as well.  But there is an undercurrent in a lot of it that I don’t think would exist if I were either a male or a straight minister.  Hostile people will use whatever weapons they have available.  Homophobia will come out, if it exists, during a conflict, just as racism will.  Even among liberals and self defined radicals and progressives.  It is in our culture and individuals can’t always help it, but it is also important to name it when it happens.

I have been accused of “unwelcome touching.”

I have been called a bully.

I think they were really calling me a bull dyke.

I think they are afraid of me.

I hope I can find a way to walk with them through that fear.  It isn’t everybody. It is only two or three people that seem to be acting out of a deep, maybe even a subconscious, fear.  One won’t agree to talk to me directly, even with a facilitator.  There are a number of other people that don’t agree with me about one thing or another, but they are willing to talk with me about those issues. That’s normal, respectful, and reasonable.  If we can talk to each other, we can also listen.  Ministry is about listening as well as leading.  That, too, I know in my bones.  What I am hearing now from a few people is fear.

We’re all a long way from home.  Give us the courage we need for the journey,

 

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The Gospel Truth? @thebfuu 3/15/15

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A lot of people cry in church, and that is usually a good thing. Tears can be good, and in times of grief or disappointment just letting them flow can be very healing. We cry when are hearts are touched, and our Sunday morning services should touch our hearts.

 

But people also cry in churches because their church is hurting them, telling them that they are somehow less than worthy, less than whole.   They are told that God doesn’t love them just as they are if they are gay. They may also be told that they are less than worthy if they happen to be female. It is in the Bible after all.

 

This morning’s sermon title is “The Gospel Truth” There really should be a question mark. Just like St Patrick did not really drive the snakes from Ireland because there were no snakes there to begin with, much of what we are told about the Bible is simply wrong. This sermon today might help some of you dialogue with or resist anyone who might be beating you about the head and wounding your heart with their literal interpretations of scripture.

 

The word Gospel comes from the Greek word, euangélion, and means quite literally “good news.”

 

It did not mean absolute fact, something that can’t be questioned, although the word has taken on that meaning in our language today.

In ancient Greece when a city-state was at war, and soldiers were far away engaged in combat, the people at home worried, just as we do today when our sons and daughters are at risk in foreign lands. After a battle, a runner raced back home, hopefully to bring the word of victory, to spread the gospel, the good news. That is the earliest evidence we have of how the word gospel was used.

When the early Christians were writing in Greek, they used the same term with the same meaning because they believed that the message of Jesus, the message of a loving God, of hope for the poor and oppressed, was very good news indeed.

 

Now we all want good news to be true. There is nothing so upsetting as to think something wonderful has happened and to find out there was disaster instead.

 

You know that feeling when you have struggled to park in the last tiny spot on a crowded street and then while walking away, you discover a small sign that tells you it is street sweeping day? We want good news to be true. We want to park our cars, our lives, someplace good, and not have to move them again. We don’t want to be required to read the fine print.

 

So it is with the Bible. If you read the fine print, if you study it, you will find that while it may still be good news, and it certainly contains much wisdom, what it says is not literal fact.

 

My Old Testament professor in seminary, a delightfully droll Franciscan priest, was fond of saying that the Bible is not history, it is not science, and it should never be used as a club, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

 

The Bible, he said, is a collection of the stories of a people and their struggles to be in right relationship with the divine, with God. It is full of metaphor and full of inconsistencies. It wasn’t written down all at one time; and God didn’t dictate it.

 

Biblical scholars, using modern methods, have determined that the bible is in fact a collection of stories, many of which were originally oral traditions, and almost of which were edited and changed over time.

 

The word Bible actually means library and comes from the name of the town Býblos, a Phoenician port where papyrus was prepared. And there is not just one Bible, a fact that many Biblical literalists don’t know. The Hebrew Scriptures are a collection of 24 books in three divisions: the law (or Torah), the prophets, and the writings. The Protestant Old Testament contains all the same books, but arranges them differently in order to make a theological point. The Roman Catholic Old Testament is larger than the protestant version; containing 15 additional books also known as the apocrypha, which means literally “hidden away”. The Greek Orthodox Church includes even more, and the Ethiopian Church yet again more.

So when someone tells you that they follow what is in the Bible, it would not be at all unreasonable to ask, “Which one?”

 

The official version of the bible and the books included in it is often referred to as the canon.

 

Most of the individual books have also been edited. Some are clearly combinations of different earlier versions. The Torah, what Christians call the Pentateuch, is composed of the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scripture: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Scholars have determined that there were originally as many as five separate and distinct written versions of the material in the Torah that were combined at a later time. They are referred to as the J, D, E, and P versions; P is for priestly and the style is rather dry and formulaic. The D source is found mainly in Deuteronomy.

 

J and E refer to two different Hebrew names for God. Scholars are still arguing about which source came first and the actual number of different sources, but they are in full agreement that the Torah was not written by Moses.

 

Have you ever wondered why there are two versions of the creation story in Genesis? Genesis one describes creation as happening in seven days and God creating both man and woman in his image at the same time. It is in Genesis 2 that God takes a rib from Adam to create Eve.

 

From the story of the flood to the tales of Abraham and Sarah, from the parting of the Red Seas to the listing of the Ten Commandments, there are both repetitions and differences in what the Bible says. So if someone tells you they believe what the Bible says, after they tell you which version, you might want to ask, which part of that version?

You also might want to ask them, if they say the Bible is the literal truth, if they think men really have one less rib than women. Did anyone else ever try to count their ribs and those of an opposite gender friend or sibling? I did. It was very confusing.   It also wasn’t particularly easy and I don’t remember even getting a firm number. Pull out an anatomy textbook later, or ask your doctor if you still aren’t sure. We aren’t going to engage in rib counting this morning here in church, but if you want, you can do that later, in the privacy of your own homes.

 

The New Testament section of the Bible was created in a similar fashion. It is a collection of stories and letters about Jesus and the early Church, some of which are repeated and many of which are inconsistent with each other.

 

Most scholars agree that some of the letters attributed to Paul were written earlier than any of the actual Gospels. They agree that Mark was the first gospel written; at least of the ones included in the canon, and that the authors of Matthew and Luke had access to Mark when they wrote their versions of the life of Jesus. Many believe that they also had copies of another text, possibly older than Mark, which contained various sayings of Jesus. That document is referred to as “Q”.

There was much controversy in the early church over what writings should be included. There was a lot of very diverse material floating around for the first four centuries, as well as very different oral traditions.   People argued about what should be included and what should be left out. Even as late as the protestant reformation Martin Luther argued that the book of James should not be included in the canon.

 

Some writings were lost for more than a thousand years, but scholars were aware of their existence because of historical records that made reference to them. Many of these texts were found in modern times. You may have heard of the Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Judas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which Tom read a portion of earlier. Often referred to as the Gnostic Gospels, more than 52 ancient Christian writings were discovered in 1945 in Egypt.

 

These writings, that are still being studied by scholars, give us a lot of clues about the diversity of Christian belief in the earliest years.

 

So, when someone tells you women should be silent in church because it says that in the Bible maybe you might want to quote from the Gospel of Mary where Levi calls Peter hot headed because he does not want to believe what Mary is saying.

 

You might also ask them why Paul felt the need to tell women they should be quiet. Most likely they were speaking up and he wanted to silence them.

The Gospel Truth really is a question mark. I haven’t even gone into the whole issue of translations, but it is pretty clear that Jesus didn’t speak King James English. He didn’t even speak Greek. Anyone who speaks more than one language knows very well that literal translations often result in distorted meanings.

Once while in a fairly impish mood, talking to someone who said that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuals, I quoted from the King James Version, Luke 17:34. The verse reads, literally:

“I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.”

Now, when you interpret that verse literally it is pretty clear that at least half of the gay people go to heaven, isn’t it?

I don’t actually suggest that you leave here today and go out and start arguments with biblical literalists. But if it interests you, do some reading about biblical scholarship.   If you want some recommendations, let me know. There are a lot of very good books out there, some very academic and some easier to read and digest.

But what I most want to leave you with today are some questions. What is your holy text, and what good news does it contain?

Do you find it in scripture; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or perhaps another tradition? Do you find it in poetry, in nature, in connections with other people?

Each of us must find our own truth. We find it in our own lives and in the lives of others that we come to know. We find it in the world around us. It is helpful to read, to study, and to learn what others believe to be true. But in the end, we must each make our own peace with the meaning of our own life, and our own peace with whatever we mean when we say the word God. There is some gospel, some good news, however, even if there is not just one “gospel truth.” We don’t have to do any of this alone. There are other souls around engaged in similar journeys. Maybe we can learn from one another. Maybe we can stop using sacred texts like the Bible to justify our own bias and bigotry. Maybe love will finally find a way to vanquish hate.

Amen and Blessed Be. Can we have a hallelujah too?

 

 

From the Dust

We could skim along the surface

Drift high above the clouds

Following the rainbow

We’ve always known is there.

But to grow a garden

A vision strong and true

We must engage the soil

Here among the earthworms

We tend the sacred ground.

 

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Not Wishy Washy 3/8/15 @thebfuu

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You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

Church is like that, or should be like that.

The full Annie Dillard quote, referenced in our reading is as follows:

“Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

—Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.

Now I know a lot of us here don’t believe in any kind supreme being, but whoever is doing the waking up, religious community is about change. If coming on Sunday mornings isn’t changing your life in some way, if it isn’t making you think and feel just a little bit differently than when you walked in, then we aren’t doing our job here. We aren’t fulfilling our mission. Our mission is in our bylaws, and conveniently enough on the front of our order of service.

“Building character, enriching spirits, promoting community, and serving humankind through spiritual growth and social action.”

The mission statement is what this congregation has said it will do. We are part of a proud and active tradition. This weekend, Unitarian Universalists from around the country have gathered in Selma Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march there. 50 years ago, there were more Unitarian ministers at Selma than from any other predominantly white denomination. Clark Olson, then the minister of this fellowship was there. He was with James Reeb when racist thugs attacked them, an encounter that ended Rev. Reeb’s life.

Unitarian Universalists have always worked for justice. It is in our DNA.

Another thing that is in our DNA is that we are changing. Change can be difficult for people and for institutions. Crash helmets really might be a good idea.

Let’s go back to our reading for a minute:

Unitarian Universalist Minister, Tom Schade, in our reading, named four different conceptions of our congregations. (http://www.tomschade.com/2013/05/re-imagining-unitarian-universalism_3544.html)

One – our congregations are places where smart people gather for the intellectual exploration of life issues, in an atmosphere freed of religion dogma.

Is that part of why you are here? If so, raise your hand. You are all smart people, by the way. I don’t care how much formal education you may have had or not had.

Two – our congregations are places to connect to the rebellious and counter-culture trends in society, a place to meet more radical, committed and interesting people there than anywhere else in town.

Is that part of why you are here? If so, raise your hand. Interesting.

Three – our congregations serve as a place for community, a community perhaps more welcoming and supportive than you have found anywhere else.

I think Rev. Schade was wrong to label these “stages” as if they are something that we move through and leave behind. Instead, they are not only part of what we once were, but they are part of what we still are today and part of who we will be in the future. They are in the water, so to speak.

But, what of his fourth so-called stage? Do you have your crash helmets on? Should we issue them to our visitors when they walk in the door?

How many of you come here to be challenged, to wake up, and to become maybe a little off-balance? How many of you want to discover a way to change and improve your own life and also the world around you?

OK, if that rings true for you, please raise your hands. We have some brave souls here!

There has been a lot of conversation going on right now about where Unitarian Universalism is going. Are we the religion for our time or are we going to fade away like most of the mainline protestant denominations seem to be doing?

The Reverend Christine Robinson talked about this a lot as the keynote speaker at our regional assembly a couple of years ago. (http://pwruua.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/RA-Lecture-Rev-Christine-Robinson-4-26-13.pdf)

Her main point was that the religious landscape of America is changing, that the fastest growing group of people in America are those who think of themselves as spiritual but not religious.

She says:

“People used to come to us because “We honor your religious freedom,” but that is not bringing many people any more. Now, when people decide that they don’t believe what they were raised to believe, they often go for years without belonging to any congregation, and in the new religious ecology, there’s no pressure to join one. When they decide they want to go to church again, it is not because they want freedom; they’ve had freedom.

They come looking for something that they can’t get in the secular world. They want spiritual instruction, not freedom. They want a safe place to explore what happens to them when they start to deepen their lives.

They come to us because they know their beliefs are not orthodox and because they would feel hypocritical in an orthodox church…. in this they resemble their elders. But once here, they want to do very different things.”

Robison’s guess at a slogan for us is this: “Spiritual growth in a theologically diverse community.”

She also called it, “Spiritual not dogmatic.”

Rev. Robinson did not go into it in detail, but an important part of spiritual growth is sharing that larger spirit into the world, serving others and creating a more just world. Yes, we should be issuing crash helmets.

Another thing we need to be clearer about is our theology. The Rev. Marilyn Sewell tried to define a common Unitarian Universalist theology and listed the following:

“We believe that human beings should be free to choose their beliefs according to the dictates of their own conscience.

We believe in original goodness, with the understanding that sin is sometimes chosen, often because of pain or ignorance.

  • We believe that God is One.
  • We believe that revelation is ever unfolding.

We believe that the Kingdom of God is to be created here on this earth.

We believe that Jesus was a prophet of God, and that other prophets from God have risen in other faith traditions.

  • We believe that love is more important than doctrine.

We believe that God’s mercy will reconcile all unto itself in the end.”

(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilyn-sewell/unitarian-universalist-theology_b_870528.html?ref=fb)

Now, those work really well for me. I agree with them. But then again, I believe in God, although my understanding of God is nothing like the understanding of clergy from more orthodox traditions. Some of the atheists had a huge problem with her use of the word God. It probably made a number of you feel like you are being excluded from what was stated to be a common theology.

I think if her ideas were simply rearranged, however, and a small phrase added, then there would not be the same level of controversy about them.

Listen again, and see if they work better for you.

“We believe that human beings should be free to choose their beliefs according to the dictates of their own conscience.” Agree? Raise your hand. It is our fourth principle somewhat restated.

“We believe in original goodness, with the understanding that sin is sometimes chosen, often because of pain or ignorance.” Raise your hand.

Then for the next five, let’s add the words, “if we believe in God or if we were to believe in a God,” The addition of those words should be helpful for the atheists and agnostics among us.

“We believe that God is One.” Raise your hands.

“We believe that revelation is ever unfolding.” Raise your hands.

“We believe that the Kingdom of God is to be created here on this earth.” Raise your hands.

“We believe that Jesus was a prophet of God, and that other prophets from God have risen in other faith traditions.” Raise your hands.

We believe that God’s mercy will reconcile all unto itself in the end.” Raise your hands.

And finally, and this one is I think the most important of all:

“We believe that love is more important than doctrine.” Raise your hands.

None of that was 100%, but it was pretty close, and it really is a distinctive theology, particularly among denominations that are part of the Christian tradition, as we have been and still are in many ways.

Those of us that believe in God believe in a merciful loving God, not a judgmental or punishing one.

Those of us that believe in an afterlife do not believe in a hell where people are punished after we die.

I could go on, but being a Unitarian Universalist, is not a “believe whatever you want,” kind of religion.

So my hope for our new members, and for our longer-term members as well, is that you find here not only what you are looking for, but also what you might need.

I hope that being involved in this congregation makes you think, and I hope you find the ideas and the other people here interesting. I hope you feel welcome and supported in this community. And I hope that you sometimes feel challenged, surprised, and maybe even a little off balance. I hope you discover ways to improve your own life and to make this world a better place for all who share this planet with us.

What do you want? What do you need?

Feel it. Imagine it. Make it so.

Nameste.

Using our Anger @thebfuu March 1, 2015

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What should we do with our anger?

Shall we hold it inside?

Until it explodes

Scorching the earth with hate

Fight like there’s no tomorrow

Burn down every bridge that we see?

What should we do with our anger

Shall we bury it deep in our hearts

Feed it with resentment

A smoldering coal that smokes

And colors our vision grey.

What shall we do with our anger?

Shall we release it bit by bit

Hiding a nasty word with a smile

A dagger sly behind a hug

A pretended innocence

Oh, what shall you do with your anger

What shall I do with mine?

Can we build a fire to light our way

And warm our ragged hearts?

Can fury give us the energy

To build the world anew?

Can justice come from rage?

Can anger be guided by love?

Can it become a blessing

Instead of a curse?

Only love will make it so.

 

Our culture does not always teach us how to deal with anger in healthy ways. We are expected to be nice and polite and to act like everything is fine, even when it is not. We can hold our anger in, deny it and pretend it doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t make it go away. If we do not acknowledge our anger and treat it like the useful tool it is, then we run the risk of our anger exploding outward in destructive ways or staying inside of us and poisoning our spirits.

Anger is a normal human emotion, and as was stated by feminist theologian, Beverly Harrison, in this morning’s reading, it is best understood as a simple feeling-signal that all is not well.

If we are angry, it also means we care. We don’t often get really angry about things that don’t matter much.   Maybe we get irritated at minor things, a slow car in front of us on the freeway, a houseguest that leaves dirty dishes in the sink for us to deal with, but unless we allow it to build, those types of irritations do not turn into rage.

Anger is a normal emotion, but it can also be complicated. It is not always clear what is making us angry; we just know that something does not feel right. Maybe something seems unfair, maybe we feel disrespected or ignored, or perhaps we feel betrayed. Underneath our anger there is often another emotion; sometimes it is hurt, disappointment, or fear.

You ask someone not to do something and they do it anyway. Someone does something that creates a situation that feels dangerous to you.

A precious object is broken and cannot be repaired.

Sometimes we are angry with others. Sometimes we are angry with ourselves. Sometimes we are angry with God.

Anger is energy – it doesn’t just go away. We need to do something with that energy and the choice of what to do with it is ours.

All of us carry pain, sometimes from our childhoods and sometimes from experiences we have had as adults. Sometimes in order to bury the pain we wrap it in anger, in resentment. It can be like carrying a time bomb around inside. If the wrong thing happens, maybe even if someone says the wrong thing in all innocence, it can be a trigger that can make the bomb explode. This is what I think happens in cases of road rage.

Let me give another example, a fairly easy one to understand. Perhaps when you were younger, a dog bit you, or at least scared you badly. As a result, you are now afraid of dogs. Many years later maybe you go hiking in an area where dogs are not allowed. Then suddenly you see a dog running loose, the owner close behind. You might very well want to scream at the owner. You might even do it. How dare they have a dog here!

 

But if you weren’t really afraid of dogs, if you hadn’t had that earlier experience, you might be irritated that someone was breaking the rules. You might even comment that the dog should not be there. Chances are, however, that you would not be particularly afraid and it would be very unlikely that you would start screaming angrily at the dog’s owner.

Fear and anger can be an explosive combination. How can we learn to manage anger in healthy ways?

Step one, I think is to simply acknowledge that we are angry. It is nothing to be ashamed of. As I said, it is a normal human emotion, something that tells us that something is wrong.

Step two would be to try and understand what you are angry about. This is where counting to ten can help. Taking a few breaths, pausing before you react to your angry feelings doesn’t make the anger go away, but it gives you a moment to think.

It might help now to be thinking about a time when you have felt angry. Maybe you want to think about a time when you have been furious, maybe even “blind with rage.” If you don’t want to go there right now, and that is OK, just think of a time when you have been seriously irritated.

What made you so angry? What were you feeling?

 

Our bodies usually produce adrenalin when we experience anger – the old flight or fight response of our brains that are programmed for survival. What was the immediate cause of your angry reaction? Did it remind you of anything else? Was your anger deeper and stronger than seems justified by the particular event?

Two examples: Sometimes when I am working on the computer, and having a hard time either writing a sermon or composing a sensitive email, I can get irritated if I am interrupted. I have even been known to speak too sharply to my lovely wife when she asks me about the shopping list.

It is clear that my reaction is all about me and is not at all a fair response to anything she did. It’s kind of like the old line about having a bad day at work and going home and kicking your dog.

That was an example of misplaced or misdirected anger, and if we take a minute to think before we speak, we can avoid hurting someone else’s feelings.

Sometimes our anger is directed correctly, however, but is much more intense that the particular situation calls for. The second example: your teenager’s room is filthy, as usual. You have calmly asked her to clean it up every day for the last week, but it hasn’t happened. Then she asks to go to the movies with a friend, and you explode and yell that she is not leaving the house until her room is clean.

Ever been there? After you explode, you realize that you let your anger build up to a point where you could no longer contain it. A better plan would have been to tell her earlier in the week that you were getting angry because her room was still a mess, and that she needed to clean it before she does anything fun.

Step three for managing anger, is figuring out what to do with it. No worries, there are only three steps. One: acknowledge it. Two: understand it. Three: do something with it.

Once we realize that we are angry and know why, only then we can know what we should do about it.

If you don’t acknowledge that you are angry, even to yourself, your anger festers inside of you.

It becomes easy to turn the anger against yourself. There must be something wrong with me for feeling this way. Anger is energy, and it will find somewhere to go. If there is too much social pressure to be polite and to not be angry, our anger will either make us sick or come out in other ways. How many of you have experienced passive aggressive behavior from others? How many of you have practiced it?

People often resort to passive aggressive behavior like saying something nasty with a smile, giving a backhanded compliment, asking a not-so-innocent question.

 

People do that when they don’t want to acknowledge even to themselves that they are angry or because they are afraid of the consequences of expressing their anger. I didn’t mean it that way. It’s OK. I am fine.

And then there is malicious compliance. Oh, I was just doing what you said you wanted.

Sometimes passive aggressive behavior and malicious compliance are simply coping mechanisms when the angry person feels powerless.

It is much better, if you can admit that you are angry and you can understand why, to express that anger in a direct and appropriate way. Using “I” statements is much better than the accusatory “you.” It is more effective to say, “I am angry” than “you made me angry”, because it is less likely to trigger a defensive reaction. It is also more effective if you can articulate why you are angry, and include at least some of reasons that your anger may be more intense than expected.

“It makes me angry when it seems like you aren’t listening to me. It really upsets me a lot partly because my mother never listened to me when I was a child.” Expressing anger in that way is very positive. It can create changed behavior and increase mutual understanding.

Beverly Harrison said,

“Where anger arises, the energy to act is present. . .

We must never lose touch with the fact that all serious human moral activity, especially action for social change, takes its bearings from the rising power of human anger.”

I don’t get really angry with individuals very often, but I am simply furious about much of what is going on in our world and our country. I am outraged at the increasing income disparity between the rich and the poor and that people can work full time and not earn enough to survive. I am furious that our politicians have put their votes up for sale and that corporations have been allowed to buy our democratic institutions. I am angry about what we are doing to our planet. I am angry that the police have killed so many unarmed young black men. I am angry that there have been so few prosecutions of those crimes. It fills me with rage when I think of all the young people who commit suicide, particularly our transgender youth. I could go on. Homelessness? I am old enough to remember the years before Ronald Reagan cut the federal housing budget and closed the state mental hospitals. Those were years when there were very few people without a place to live. Health care? Too many people still don’t have health care that is both affordable and decent. I could go on, there are so many things that merit our anger and our rage.

My solution to my own feelings of anger is to write, agitate, and OK yeah, preach about it. “Don’t mourn, organize,” is good advice for all of us.

Marge Piercy wrote the following poem:

Anger shines through me.

Anger shines through me.

I am a burning bush.

My rage is a cloud of flame.

My rage is a cloud of flame

in which I walk

seeking justice

like a precipice.

How the streets

of the iron city

flicker, flicker,

and the dirty air

fumes.

Anger storms

between me and things,

transfiguring,

transfiguring.

A good anger acted upon

is beautiful as lightning

and swift with power.

A good anger swallowed,

a good anger swallowed

clots the blood

to slime.

 

Our anger can be good if we own it, understand it, and use it wisely. My prayer is that we will not use our righteous rage against ourselves or against innocent bystanders. My hope is that even when our eyes flash in anger, behind them is the light of love.

The warmth of compassion that lives in our hearts can help us understand that we all suffer from structures of oppression and habits of mistrust that surround us.   Something is wrong, many things are wrong, our anger should provide the energy we will need to bring more love and justice into the world. We can go on if we take each other’s hand and move forward in love and in hope. May it be so.