Tag Archives: Anger

Anger: The Dangerous Emotion

Angry Sphynx
Angry Sphynx (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Preparing for this Sunday’s sermon I have seen pictures of angry people, angry dogs, angry cats, even angry birds. I suppose every animal with a spine can express anger. Anger makes us seem bigger and more powerful, ready to take on whoever or whatever has invaded our space. Anger helps us assert authority when we need defend ourselves, our home, or our loved ones, and for humans, our ideals.

But if used too freely anger can deter collaborating resulting in statements like: “I tried to tell you but …”

And once anger has inflamed our passion it distorts our memories of events and closes our ears and our eyes to our opponent’s virtues.

On the other hand, overly suppressing anger, acting nice in the face of rudeness, interference, or aggression helps no one. The person acting nice gets abused and disrespected and the one who violates cultural norms does not learn about boundaries our community respects.

Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and do not make room for the devil.
— Ephesians 4:26-27 (NRSV)

But how are we to find a balance?

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath
and anger and wrangling and slander,

together with all malice,
and be kind to one another, tenderhearted,
forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
— Ephesians 4:31-32 (NRSV)

 One gift we have is to listen deeply and carefully when anger stirs our gut: To listen to ourselves discerning why our anger has arisen. And to listen to our opponents and discern what good and valuable and useful contribution might they be trying to offer or how might we have over stepped their boundaries.

I will have more to say about this passage at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church on Sunday, August 9th.  For an audio recording of that sermon go to Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church’s website.

Fast from Bitterness

English: A cropped version of Antonio Ciseri's...
From Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus had every reason to be bitter and angry when he stood before Pilate. He had been betrayed and denied by his own disciples. The Jewish leaders had him arrested on trumped up charges. The people had preferred that Pilate release a murderer. The guards mocked him, placing a wreath of thorns on his head, before spitting on him. Yet Mark portrays him as calm and detached.

The guards expected bitterness and anger. Such a response might have eased their gruesome task: nailing him to a cross.

Anger can be a dangerous emotion. One that unleashes harsh words that can’t be recalled. Words that can have an impact that lasts far beyond their usefulness.

The Prophet Isaiah provides an alternative response:

The Lord God will help me and prove I am innocent.
My accusers will wear out like moth-eaten clothes.
— Isaiah 50:9 (CEV)

Fasting from bitterness and anger requires learning to take time to think through how I might respond, using my advanced human brain, rather than my animal instincts. Daily meditative prayer allows me to practice letting stray thoughts amble through my mind, without dwelling on any one thought. So that when circumstances might evoke a strong emotional response, I might allow those thoughts to amble through, I might be able to give God time to help me and prove my innocence, to wear out my accusers.

Fasting from bitterness can lead to forgiving others. Not letting them off the hook, ignoring the pain that they have caused in harming, but letting go of the string that binds us together, giving me time to heal. Forgiveness need not deny guilt, merely responsibility for retribution, allowing me to separate from the incident lest my bitterness eat in to my spiritual health.

When have you forgiven someone who hurt you?

Bridling Anger

Double bridle, with both curb and snaffle bits.
Double bridle, with both curb and snaffle bits. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most days I can control my tongue, but every once and awhile I wish I had a muzzle or at least a bridle.

I said, “I will guard my ways
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will keep a muzzle on my mouth
as long as the wicked are in my presence.”

— Psalm 39:1 (NRSV)

But even that might not be enough. The psalmist continues:

I was silent and still;
I held my peace to no avail;
my distress grew worse,
my heart became hot within me.
While I mused, the fire burned;

— Psalm 39:2-3a (NRSV)

Yes, muzzled anger only intensifies. Instead of flashing out at its perceived causes, it burns within, consuming me instead.

There is a better way to bridle anger, to put it to work.

First, I am learning to recognize that my anger helps no one else. But it can help me as an alert of an injustice I might correct.

Second, ask what have I observed. Specifically, what would a neutral unemotional observer report, what might a camera record. For example not that so-and-so disrespects other people by always arriving late, but that this week he was late 5 minutes and 15 minutes the week before and perhaps occasionally he had arrived on time.

Third, reflect on my values compromised by what I have observed. In the above example, respect for participants in a meeting. Timeliness is merely a strategy for demonstrating respect.1

Now I am prepared to cool my anger. Report what I have observed and the values compromised and to seek new strategies to demonstrate mutual respect.

So then, putting away falsehood,
let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors,
for we are members of one another.
Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and do not make room for the devil.
Thieves must give up stealing;
rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands,
so as to have something to share with the needy.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is useful for building up, as there is need,
so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger
and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,
and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ has forgiven you.

— Ephesians 4:25-32 (NRSV)

* For more information about this process see: Deborah Van Deusen Hunsinger and Theresa F. Latini, Transforming Church Conflict: Compassionate Leadership in Action.