If you’re one of my most liberal friends, you may want to stop reading now because this is one of those posts where even my fellow liberals attack me. “How can you support moderate politicians?” you ask. If you read to the end, I can see you in my head, rolling your eyes and opening your mouth to respond before you’ve given yourself even five seconds to think about what I’m saying. You may even decide not to read any more of my blog posts and wonder how I can continue to call myself a bleeding heart liberal—or even a liberal.
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.
Religion is a human-made construct. Merriam-Webster defines it as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.” In our quest to understand the nature of the universe and our place in it, we turn to others who are like-minded, decide together what we believe, and find strength and community among kindred spirits.
Faith and spirituality spring from within the human soul. In our quest to connect with the unseen Spirit that inhabits us all, we cling to what we believe. Sometimes, in our worst moments, we attack the validity of the beliefs of those who see God through a different human lens. And even in our best moments we are often confused by why anyone would believe what others believe.
Today’s post is the third in a series that explore what I think people misunderstand about the religion I’ve chosen to help me understand my own spirituality, my own place in the universe. I don’t pretend to be a theologian. These posts will simply offer my own thoughts and my own understanding as I’ve come to see God through Christianity—and, in particular, through Presbyterianism.
I invite you to respond—to help me understand what I might not about your own religious community and practices.
Part 3: “Does God give us more than we can stand?”
I’d been looking forward to spring break for weeks. My husband and I planned to spend Easter weekend with my sister, and then we would spend the rest of the week focusing on one another and on the things that are important to us. I packed up drafts of a book I’m working on with plans to get much of the editing done during our week at the beach.
But our plans took a detour outside the Life is Good store when my sister, who had knee replacement surgery a few months ago, tripped over a curb. I reached forward to steady her, and we both tumbled to the ground. She landed on the outside of my left knee, and a trip to the Outer Banks Hospital confirmed what we already knew—that my knee was badly broken and would require surgery to repair. My husband packed our things, which had only been unpacked the day before, while I sat in the back seat of the car in a leg brace among a sea of pillows. Continue reading Does God Give Us More Than We Can Stand?→
After hearing a number of stories this week about teenagers and young adults who are struggling with what it means to live in a world that isn’t always kind to them, I’m posting again a blog from the winter of 2013. Please share it with a young person who feels out of place in the world, and please comment to add your own stories.
“How are you doing?” I asked a teenager this week.
In a moment of unhesitating honesty, she responded, “Well, everyone at school thinks I’m a freak.” And then she paused. “But I guess I’m okay.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about that comment—thinking about how many times a day we casually ask about each other’s well-being. When we ask that question, “How are you doing?” we expect to be answered in a sound bite response: “Fine. How are you?” The niceties are out of the way, and we can get on with our busy days. Sometimes we get the opposite extreme of the sound bite—the lengthy complaint—the one that stops us in our busy tracks and requires us to listen and pretend empathy for a litany of maladies that makes us wish we hadn’t asked.
No time for my own post, since it’s my busiest week at work, but I highly recommend this TedTalk, in which Lesley Hazleton says this:
Like fundamentalists of all religious stripes,they have no questions, only answers.They found the perfect antidote to thoughtand the ideal refuge of the hard demands of real faith.They don’t have to struggle for it like Jacobwrestling through the night with the angel,or like Jesus in his 40 days and nights in the wilderness,or like Muhammad, not only that night on the mountain,but throughout his years as a prophet,with the Koran constantly urging him not to despair,and condemning those who most loudly proclaimthat they know everything there is to knowand that they and they alone are right.
And yet we, the vast and still far too silent majority,have ceded the public arena to this extremist minority.We’ve allowed Judaism to be claimedby violently messianic West Bank settlers,; Christianity by homophobic hypocritesand misogynistic bigots;Islam by suicide bombers.And we’ve allowed ourselves to be blinded to the fact thatno matter whether they claim to be Christians,Jews or Muslims,militant extremists are none of the above.They’re a cult all their own, blood brotherssteeped in other people’s blood.
Rain falling, wind blowing, I enjoy a morning of sitting in a condo at one of the highest points in Duck, North Carolina. Almost eleven years ago, in the face of my aggressive cancer that forced my husband and me to reevaluate our plans for the future, we made one of the boldest decisions we’ve ever made: We decided to freeze the amount of money we were saving for retirement and invest in something we could enjoy no matter what the future held. It hasn’t proven to be the wisest of financial investments, but it has definitely been an investment in our souls. We’ve learned to love May and October most of all, when the weather is warm, but the beach is peaceful and the sunsets are stunning.
This morning I looked out toward the ocean, a quarter of a mile from our second floor condo, and thought about a news article in the Washington Postthis week, titled, “Collapse of Antarctic ice sheet is underway and unstoppable but will take centuries.” Continue reading How Much is Enough?→
“Easter is the most important holiday,” a friend said to me last week.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. My friend is an intellectual who values his cultural heritage—one that began shortly after the crucifixion of Christ and that is rooted in a much richer history than my own, which began only a few hundred years ago with the Protestant Reformation. But this friend attends church only a handful of times a year, mostly during Holy Week.
“I’ve said a lot of things in my life that I wish I could take back,” she said.
I had run into her in a restaurant, years after we had stopped being friends, though we treated one other with civility when our paths intersected. We had a lengthy conversation, catching up on each other’s lives. In my mind, I can still see the scene—the tables in the restaurant and even the periwinkle sweater she was wearing. But I can’t recall anything else in the conversation.
I remember it because it was an implicit apology. Our friendship ended when someone repeated to me something deeply hurtful that she’d said about me at a time when I was vulnerable. Continue reading Why Should I Forgive?→