Category Archives: Faith

Righteous Anger or Inner Peace?

Peace on the mountain

Like many Americans, I am fearful for our country. I am angry—at the so-called president, at the people he’s choosing to fill his Cabinet, at his executive orders, at my fellow Americans who voted him into office—especially those I count among my friends and family.

Some anger is good, I think. Perhaps a little more righteous anger might have prevented a whole host of tragic historical events, from the Holocaust to that darkest period in American history that allowed an entire race to be enslaved.

At times I feel I need an anger translator—the kind comedians Key and Peele provided for President Obama—who will help me compartmentalize my emotions.

During the Christmas season, I was particularly angry at evangelical Christians, 81% of whom voted for a man who represents none of the values of Christ (as he demonstrated in his remarks at his first National Prayer Breakfast). I was so angry at those who share my faith that I wrote in a blog post,

Evangelicals don’t need the Baby Jesus this year.

They don’t even need the Jesus of the cross.

They need, above all, the righteously indignant Jesus who storms into a house of worship and knocks over every object in his path, his anger aimed squarely at the religious leaders of his time—all men.

But I also worry about what our anger is doing to us. Whenever I comment on social media in a way that seeks to understand the people I count among my friends, but who voted for Trump, I invariably get a storm of replies from liberal friends and acquaintances who are angry at me for not being angry enough.

At such times, I think of theologian Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister I admire. At one of the angriest times in my life, I printed out this passage from his book Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC and put it in a frame over my desk:

Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.

I ask myself on a daily basis these days how I can find a balance between righteous anger and inner peace. I want to make a difference. But I don’t want to become the skeleton at the feast.

Many wise people warn of the dangers of anger. The Dalai Lama, probably the world’s most well-known Buddhist, says this:

Whether we will be able to achieve world peace or not, we have no choice but to work toward that goal. If we allow love and compassion to be dominated by anger, we will sacrifice the best part of our human intelligence—wisdom, our ability to decide between right and wrong. Along with selfishness, anger is one of the most serious problems facing the world today. (How to See Yourself as You Really Are)

Literary giants, too, have warned us about anger:

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. (Mark Twain)

Angry people are not always wise. (Jane Austen)

Anger…it’s a paralyzing emotion…you can’t get anything done. People sort of think it’s an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling—I don’t think it’s any of that—it’s helpless…it’s absence of control—and I need all of my skills, all of the control, all of my powers…and anger doesn’t provide any of that—I have no use for it whatsoever. (Toni Morrison)

As a Christian I remind myself that the Christ I seek to follow achieved that balance, though even he sometimes found it hard. The Gospel of Matthew describes him as so “grieved and agitated” that he went up on a mountain and threw himself on the ground to pray. The Gospel of Luke describes him as praying in such anguish that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” But when he came down from the mountain, he had found a divine peace that helped him hold on to love in the face of unspeakable hatred.

I have to remind myself that even Christ, in his lifetime on earth, did not achieve the justice he sought. But he never gave up his humanity. He never became like the religious leaders who hated him. He was never the skeleton at the feast.

Perhaps I, too, should take more opportunities to walk away from the madding crowd and find my way to the mountain to pray. I can’t stay away too long, but perhaps I’ll come back more ready to go on.

Open Letter to Leaders who Share My Christian Faith

To: The President, Senators, and Representatives Who Share My Christian Faith

I firmly believe in the separation of church and state. But I do believe that one’s faith, whatever that may be, should inform one’s thinking and actions. Because Christians hold a super-majority in both houses of Congress—a majority greater than either political party holds—one might expect that our leaders should be working together more than they do.

Instead, for much of my lifetime, you have sought to undermine the other party with actions that look nothing like the example that Christ set for us. Continue reading Open Letter to Leaders who Share My Christian Faith

Forget Great. How about Functional?

MSNBC posted this graphic based on early information from The United States Election Project.
MSNBC posted this graphic based on early information from The United States Election Project.

 

Forget making America great. We have some work to do even to make America functional.

Based on the votes counted so far, Donald Trump was elected by only about a quarter of eligible voters. Had Hillary Clinton won, the same would have been true of her. Nearly half the electorate, 44.6% as of the latest data, did not vote at all. That was the lowest since the 1996 election, which involved another Clinton who got a very different result (CNN Politics).

Even if we account for those turned away in states like Wisconsin with strict voter ID laws, the numbers are abysmal. And many of those who did not vote actually do care about our country. Continue reading Forget Great. How about Functional?

Love in the Time of Politics

new-familyA funny thing happened on the way to my daughter’s wedding. Well…we haven’t actually gotten there yet. The wedding isn’t until next weekend. But in the four years since she met her fiancé, they have changed the way I view the world.

Born to a Republican father who essentially got to vote twice because he told my mother how to vote, I revolted. I registered as a Democrat as soon as I turned eighteen, though I didn’t tell my father, a man who laughingly informed me that before he would give my husband his blessing, the man would have to sign a paper promising to vote Republican. When Nixon resigned in disgrace a few months after I registered to vote, I became convinced that Republicans represented all that was wrong with the world. Continue reading Love in the Time of Politics

Does the Church Need Change?

Dark Sanctuary

It was a lesson I learned in sixth grade—that little old ladies have their favorite spots in the church pews and that I’d better not dare to sit there on Sunday mornings. My family was new to town, and I’d made a friend who invited me to church. My parents didn’t go to church, and his parents went every Sunday. I don’t remember where we sat or whether we sat with his parents. But I do remember that he steered me past a wiry grandmother with shiny gray hair, sprayed into place, who glared when I paused at her pew.

Continue reading Does the Church Need Change?

Can Churches Change the Conversation on Race?

Pentecost w Artist Effects

Desperate to help the children in our congregation understand the unrest in Baltimore this time a year ago, a small group of parents asked our pastors for a conversation on race. Both pastors had questioned us from the pulpit, after the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray, “If we can’t have these conversations in our houses of worship, then where?” Continue reading Can Churches Change the Conversation on Race?

Would Christ Turn Marriage Upside-Down?

RingsGeorgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, and now Oklahoma. Christianity is under assault. But not in the way that the conservatives in these states who’ve introduced discriminatory laws would say it is. Like the Pharisees Jesus condemned, these Christians stand in the marketplace and loudly proclaim their objections to the actions of those whose behavior is far more Christ-like. Their hypocrisy in the name of religion should be obvious to anyone who seeks to follow Christ’s example.

If Christianity means being Christ-like, then it is under assault. And it is up to those of us who desire to live as Christ lived to show the courage of Christ and call out such hypocrisy just as he did. Continue reading Would Christ Turn Marriage Upside-Down?

Terror, Christianity, and Holy Week

Dark Sanctuary

Holy Week this year has much in common with that first Holy Week, over 2000 years ago, when Christ turned his followers’ attention toward the inevitable. His disciples had been filled with hope that he could change the world for the better. After all, they’d seen him turn water into wine, feed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, heal the sick with the touch of a hand, raise the dead with the power of his voice. Continue reading Terror, Christianity, and Holy Week

Who are the Dreamers?

Coates

Dear Mr. Coates:

As a child I, too, stood in the face of a brandished gun. Like you, “I recall it in the slowest motion, as though in a dream.” Like you, I did not tell my teachers, and I did not tell my friends.

I did not tell my parents. Because they were there. My mother, too, stared down the barrel of the gun—a gun wielded by my drunken father.

Like you I asked, “What was the exact problem? Who could know?” It’s taken me the better part of a lifetime to understand the demons that drove my father to hold the people he loved at gunpoint. Continue reading Who are the Dreamers?