Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Anger, Batman!

Don't mess with Jesus, yo.

So this is Holy Week, but so far it hasn't been too holy on my end.  I've been kind of a mess.  I'm yelling at my husband for things he can't control, complaining about my baby waking up at night even though I'm not willing to do much to change that, and feeling generally lazy and run down.  There are many moments where I can take a step outside of myself and watch me doing a great job at being me: I'm helping the kids with their homework and they're having fun and learning together, or I'm choosing to let it go when my husband makes a decision that might make things a little more difficult for me.  But there are many many more moments when the view is not so nice.  Instead of giving him space to have his own life, I'm yelling at my husband, telling him to fix something he can't fix, or telling him I don't like the solution when he does fix it.  Or I'm frustrated with the kids and unwilling to try a different approach to help them understand something. I can't remember ever being consistently proud of my own actions or abilities.

I'm an emotional person; it's something that will never change, and I wouldn't want it to.  To live life without being able to feel anger that burns like fire or happiness that feels like the sun is inside your chest or sadness that feels like sinking would be simpler, perhaps, but incredibly bland.  My hypersensitivity causes both my best and worst traits, and without it I have no idea what life would look or feel like.  If my perspective is different, I'm not me.  So it's not that I want to avoid strong emotion altogether, it's the management that's difficult.  I grew up thinking that I should be able to control my emotions, but no one ever taught me how.  The people around me weren't so good at it either.  So now I find myself inching ever closer to 30 years old, and I still have only scratched the service in learning how to really take my own feelings into my control.  Is that what I'm trying to do?  Or am I trying to change how I feel about things?  Or am I only acknowledging my feelings, but learning how to separate them from my actions by stopping to consider my situation before reacting to whatever emotion comes up?  I tend to think it's the last one, but I'm so lost in my own brain at this point that I really don't know.  So here I am with three very emotion children who are struggling the same way I am, and I don't know what to tell them.  I am no farther along in this emotional management course than they are.

Yesterday my children and I read John 2:13-16 as part of a set of Holy Week activities I am doing with them.  This is one of those passages that I've always wanted to celebrate.  It shows me that those women you meet who seem to have little oscillation to their feelings, who look the same no matter what is happening in their life, and pride themselves on it, are not, in fact, better than I am.  Jesus was an emotional person, like me.  Here's what it says:

"When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.  So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves he said, "'Get these out of here!  How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"

So yeah, Jesus was seriously P.O.'ed.  I love how He never acted the way people expected Him to.  I mean, what these people were doing doesn't seem like that big a deal to me.  If I remember my Biblical historical info right, these people weren't actually selling animals and exchanging currency in the part of the temple where the solemn worship happened; they were outside, still on the temple grounds, but in a sort of pavilion area that surrounds it.  And they weren't there selling pork, for goodness sake, they were selling materials that people needed who came to the temple to make sacrificial offerings.  Is it even all that different from those churches that have Biblical book stores in their buildings?  Why in the world is He so upset?

When I really think about Jesus' reactions to things that were happening around Him, it's no wonder that some people thought He was crazy.  In John 8:2-11 He persuades an angry mob to give up on punishing a woman caught sleeping with a married man.  I mean, by their law this woman (and her partner, but notice he's no where around) could have been stoned (see Leviticus 20:10), but Jesus didn't worry about that.  But selling sacrifice materials outside the temple?  You're gonna get whipped.  The notes in my Bible say that Jesus was angry that the sellers were taking advantage of purchasers, that those who came to the temple to worship had a hard time doing it because of the commotion and the space taken up by the sale tables, and that He wouldn't tolerate the commercialization of the temple. (Boy, there's a whole other topic that Christians don't want to hear about.  Have you ever noticed that you can invest your hard earned money in a Christian version of just about everything these days?  Christianity is totally  commercialized and no one is talking about it.)

All of these things are probably true, but it's the opinion of scholars based on historical information; it doesn't actually say in Scripture why Jesus got so upset.  For me, it's not so important what His anger was about; what His anger wasn't about is key.  It wasn't personal.  It doesn't say that any of these sellers said or did anything to Jesus to make Him angry.  In fact, take a look at Matthew 26:59-63.  Here you have a whole group of people in a sort of mob mentality, all working together to come up with some kind of charge against Jesus so they have a good excuse to kill Him, but they can't find anything they can twist into something wrong.  The high priest asks Jesus directly what He has to say about the false accusations.  So Jesus has a prime opportunity to defend Himself at this point in His "trial".  He says nothing in His own defense.  So here's the contradiction again- sell doves, get whipped; make false accusations against God incarnate, stone cold silence.  When it is personal, Jesus doesn't do a whole lot about it.  He definitely doesn't get angry.

Up until this point I'm cheering myself on.  "See, it's just fine to get super mad and yell and scream about stuff; Jesus did it too."  This stops me in my tracks:  When it was about the holiness of the temple, the potential exploitation of worshippers, and the commercialization of a sacred Jewish ordinance, He left no one doubting His opinion, and used some violence to show it; but when it was only a personal offense, He let it pass.  The sacred nature of the temple worship was more important to Him than defending Himself against false accusations.  My anger isn't like that.  Usually when I'm angry, it's about me.  I'm tired, I'm insulted, I'm frustrated, I'm not getting what I expected, I'm making more sacrifices than I care to make at the moment.  Many of my reasons aren't even that good.  But they're all about me.  I do the "righteous anger" thing too, but usually not as deeply.

So how do I know the difference between "righteous anger" (the kind that's not about me) and selfish anger (the kind that is)?  It seems like it should be simple, but it isn't.  For example, lately I've been really unhappy about our living situation.  I have a great house and a great family who all seem completely satisfied.  Unfortunately, my great house is in the middle of a very rough neighborhood in D.C., and it does concern me that I am raising three children in a place where I count gunshots just about nightly.  Also, the schools here are terrible.  My kids are O.K. at the public charter school they attend, but I can't help but wonder if they'd be more motivated to work and able to perform even stronger at a better school.  This leads me to rethink their school options, which are just about endless around here, on a yearly basis, but while the options are numerous, none of the choices are all that great, and all seem to involve a lot of sacrifice for my kids and for me.  Is wanting my kids to have a better community to grow up in, but not being able to get a good selling price on my house for a few more years righteous anger or is it just an advanced form of white people problems?

I suspect it's the latter.  After all, if we moved to a better area, all their friends would still be here, listening to the nightly gunfire.  Eventually some of them might end up dodging it.  I want a better community for all of them, of course, but that's a harder emotion to access because that involves sadness and a sense of defeat because I know I can't fix it.  But at least I know God's probably pretty ticked off about it too.


  1. Wow Mel you sure do not give yourself enough credit sometime. What a inspiration you really are. Have a wonderful Easter and Enjoy :)

  2. I feel that way about my neighborhood, too, even though my neighborhood is not really that bad and it is getting better. I feel like I want to get out of it, and into a bigger house, but I also feel that God may want us to stay right here in this mission field. Prayer and patience. I don't know another answer for that one.

  3. I keep wondering about that. I try to look at our location as a mission field for us, but the need I see around me is overwhelming. We are in one of the poorest areas of DC. Last year I gave a bed to one of Daniel's classmates, who at 6 had never slept in one. He'd been using old crib mattresses and a blanket on the floor. I just don't know where to start. I really hoped I'd have something figured out by now.