Anger Is Not a Sin

'don't worry be happy' photo (c) 2009, Evil Erin - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Today marks the final installment in our faith and parenting series with a guest post from one of my very favorite bloggers, and people—Kathy Escobar.  Kathy is the co-pastor of The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in north Denver.  She is the author of Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Ways of Jesus, which will totally transform the way you think about “church,” I guarantee it. Kathy is married to Jose and is the mother of five. What I love most about Kathy’s writing is that it is real—representative of a life spent “in the trenches” of loving God and loving people. It consistently inspires me to love and follow Jesus better.  I really look up to Kathy because her actions line up so consistently with her words, which is a rare and beautiful thing indeed. Be sure to subscribe to Kathy’s blog. (It's a favorite.) You can also follow her on Twitter. Enjoy!  

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"In your anger, do not sin" 
- Ephesians 4:26

Transient

When I was a kid, I was taught that anger was bad.  It had nothing to do with Christianity because I was not raised in a family of faith; rather, in a home with an alcoholic, there was an underground but extremely strong message that negative emotions should be avoided at all costs. 

Happy, thankful, quiet, and easy-going were highly valued but mad, frustrated, hurt, or sad, not so much.  That was reserved for the parents.  

When I became a Christian and started learning more about Jesus in "church", I discovered that some of the same rules applied.  Messy feelings were ones to avoid.  They were equated with a lack of faith or an inability to turn it over to God properly in the moment.  For me, honestly, it didn't work half bad because I was already a master at stuffing negative feelings and pretending like nothing was wrong.

20 years ago, my husband Jose and I had our first son.  Two years after that, a daughter.  And two years after that, another son. In a wild twist of events known as "almost the immaculate conception" we had twin sons three and a half years later.  My claim to fame was having five children under the age of seven.  

And yeah, there was a lot of emotion in the house. 

During the early years, however, Jose and I practiced a parenting style consistent with what we were learning in church—negative emotions were "bad" and somehow needed to be avoided or at least taken care of quick.  For our kids, this looked like being mad at them for being mad (yes, I get the irony).  Things like "Go to your room if you are angry and come out when you're happy again!" "Stop crying now!" and "You need to change your attitude right this minute!" flowed freely from our lips.

We had good intentions.  We weren't abusive. We were just following the books that temper tantrums were a sign of faulty parenting and kids needed to learn emotion control.  

I know there are all kinds of ways children need their parents to guide, teach, and set limits on what is appropriate and what's not.  But looking back, I have learned something very painful about our early parenting years—we sent our children a strong message that we didn't tolerate negative emotions, only positive ones.

Oh how I regret this!  

The church is really good at this, too.  As a body of believers, it does seem like anger, sadness, and hurt are not tolerated very well.  We want people to go to their room when they're angry and come out when they're happy again, to change their attitudes quick, to get on with the business of feeling good as quickly as possible.  

Even though we say it's not true, it sends a message to all of us that God loves us more when we're happy and is disappointed with us when we're sad. This message gets all tangled up with our faith.  

We forget that Jesus, God in the flesh, embodied a full range of emotions.  He cried.  He yelled.  He lamented.  His blood boiled.  

He was human.

Part of my shift in faith and parenting has been about embracing the full range of my humanness. Much of how I was operating in our faith was about rejecting parts of me to somehow "please God more."

The scripture reminds us that in our anger, we shouldn't sin.  Not that anger is bad.  

And what I have learned, and keep learning, is that God wants all of us, all of the time.  He doesn't send us away when we are pissed off or turn away from us until we are happy again.  Even though I am human and not God, part of my responsibility as a parent is to reflect to my babies my full, deep, wide, and as-unconditional-as-possible love in the midst of their real lives, their real emotions, so that they can feel more secure and free.

But that shift had to happen in me first. 

Part of my responsibility as a woman of faith was to begin to accept that God wants all of me—the angry, sad, hurt, frustrated parts of me along with the happy ones, too. 

As Jose and I shifted, how we parented our children did, too. We have made many an amends to our older kids, who received the brunt of thinking that any negative emotion was a sin.  Thankfully, they have offered their grace (and told us that they had been pretty mad about it, ha!).   

We keep learning.  We keep stumbling and bumbling and making all kinds of mistakes along the way.  But I'm more sure of this than ever for myself and my kids, too—anger's not a sin.

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Looking for feedback...

Every now and then I like to take a day or two to reflect on how to make the blog better, and for that I need your help.  

You guys do a great job of providing feedback through the comment section, Facebook, and Twitter, but it’s helpful if I can consolidate that advice now and then.

So, three questions: 

1. What do you want to hear from me? More (or less) personal /humorous stories? More (or less)reflections on gender issues? More (or less) thoughts about faith and doubt? More (or less)book/movie reviews? More (or less) theological conversations? More (or less) about my experiences in the Christian publishing/speaking industry? More (or less) opportunities to ask me questions? More (or less) writing/blogging/publishing tips? More (or less) lengthy discussions about infections I get in my eye?  Tell me what you want to hear from me.  

2. What do you want to hear from others?  What suggestions do you have for our “Ask a...” series? (Should it continue or are you tired of it?) What sort of guest posts would you like to read? What groups do you feel have been underrepresented on the blog? Whose stories are you eager to hear? Who would you like to see interviewed? (Be specific!)  

3. How can I hear from you? My biggest concern about the growth of the blog is that we lose that sense of community, particularly in the comment section.  (I’m thinking of getting some help in monitoring comments. 200+ a day is just too much to for one person to handle.) How can I nurture conversation with readers? What makes you feel heard and valued? 

Feel free to answer one or all of the questions. And please take advantage of the “like” feature so I can see which responses are most popular. As always, I am so grateful for this community and all I have learned from you through the years. Have a great weekend!

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Women of the Gospels Series: "The Whole, Bloody Truth" by Addie Zierman

We continue our Women of the Gospels series today with a guest post from the talented Addie Zierman, one of my new favorite bloggers.  Addie is the creative mind behind “How to Talk Evangelical,” where she blogs about the language of spirituality and her own faith journey. She is working on a coming-of-age memoir by the same title, and is represented by the Carol Mann Agency. Addie lives in Minnesota with her husband two young son. You can find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. Enjoy!

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“And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed...’” 
– Mark 5:25-27

Transient

This is what last ditch effort looks like: a woman’s frantic grab at a stranger’s cloak. 

He is walking by, and she has heard of him: whispers of healings, echoes of prophecy, murmurings of one who carries healing powers in the tassels of his robe.

Who can say what it feels like to bleed for twelve years, to find yourself perpetually on the wrong side of the line in a culture where there is Clean and there is Unclean? 

She has tried it all –their remedies, their cures. Persian onions. Cumin and crocus and seeds, all of it boiled into wine. She knows the bitter taste of hope because she has swallowed every last drop. She’s felt it wash down her throat and disappear.

There are so many people around that day that she can only see him in glimpses. She can barely hear him for all the voices. And this is what desperation looks like: a reaching. One bold arm among dozens of others; one hand brushing the soft edge of the fabric.

And who can say what it feels like when healing travels down through your fingers, fills your entire body with light? Who can love the word “dry” like the one who has been spilling over for more than a decade?

The Rabbi stops. Turns. “Who touched my clothes?” he asks, and they who have been pressed in tight around him are not sure who he’s talking to.

But she knows. She comes forward, falls at his feet, tells the whole bloody truth. And when she has finished, when she’s spoken it out into the world, he tells her she is healed. He tells her to go in peace and be free.

***
 

I always hate to tell people about what I write. Memoir. The story of my own small life. I say it, and they purse their lips and nod, unsure of what to say next.

And it’s because there is this misconception about memoir: you write because you’ve had some kind of unusual life. You write a memoir because you are Somebody or because Some Big Thing has happened to you, and this is how we end up with tomes by the Kardashians and…Snookie.

But the truth – the thing I love about the genre – is that in its purest form, it’s exactly the opposite. I tell my story not because it is particularly thrilling, but because if I tell it right, it will tap into your story, into the collective story that we all live in.

The whole truth is in the details, the landscapes, the parts of myself that hide in the shadows of my memory. To dig for these pieces is an act of faith all its own; to assemble them into art, into story, is an act of healing.

It’s a shift in thinking. In the world of my evangelical youth, we learned to tell it small, to shrink-wrap our stories into three-minute testimonies. We crafted bite-sized portions of redemption, easy to hand out in a crowd. We gave the truth…but the sanitized version. The condensed version. A parody, a Before-and-After.

The whole truth is harder to speak. You have to talk about the bleeding in a society much too polite all that. You have to remember what it felt like to be drained, to walk into a church and feel alone, to wake day after day to more spilled blood.

To really tell the whole, damn thing, you have to describe the bitter taste of the cures that didn’t work. The margaritas. The men. The nights you were drunk and driving anyway.

You pick up the shards, and they cut your skin, but you keep working. You arrange them and rearrange them until they make something beautiful. Something with the power to touch someone else’s unspoken pain. And this…this is memoir.

***

On the other side of time, there is a woman. She stands in a crowd and tells the whole truth. 

She tells it loud, tells it trembling, and if you are quiet enough you can feel it reverberate here in your own bloodied soul.

She talks about pain, about desperation, about reaching.

She could be talking about you.

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Church Stories: Cursed Creed by David Henson

Today I am thrilled to share a beautiful and challenging guest post from my friend David Henson.  

David  received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalist. He is currently a postulant for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church and writing his first book.  David is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student. He blogs here, and you can find him on Facebook and Twitter. He enjoys hearing from anyone who reads his work, especially, but not exclusively, if they like it.

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Transient

When my faith foundered, the voices echoing the Nicene Creed in the cavernous halls of an ornate Episcopal church in Alabama caught me. Buoyed by the voices of the saints past and present in that parish, I felt my faith picked up at the seams and pinned to angels who carried me over canyons of doubt. It was as if, unable to reach toward heaven on my own, the confident voices of those around me raised my own voice like a marionette doll, awkward, but vaguely human.

The Creed saved my faith. It saved me.

Now, though, I wonder how many of those strong voices that I felt had carried me in my weakness relied on me just the same. And, maybe, this is the true beauty of the Creed, not that all those past and present raised their voices in utter faith and bold assurance of things unseen. Perhaps it is in the feeble offerings of each voice, giving strength to the crippled, cracked cries of the next, that the Creed's true power lies. That every time we say the Creed together, we create our faith together, spinning it out of the thin, stained light, the musty, moth-eaten faith of our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters.

How ephemeral this faith is, shimmering on quivering voices, threatening to disappear with its images of God and to leave behind only the smell of stale coffee breath and peppermint gum.

When we affirm our faith with the Creed, are we really simply affirming our faith in the faith of others, past, present and future? 
Yet, out of such a beautiful, farcical facade, faith and community can be created, like gold from straw.

Currently, there is a popular video about the Nicene Creed circulating in my social media circles that implores Christians not to be "robots" when they say Creed, but rather to make it "real," whatever that means. I think it's a well meaning, but ultimately misguided, attempt to make the Creed relevant and interesting to today's generation. Most troubling, the video edits the Nicene  Creed's most important word, changing "We believe" into "I believe." In effect, it transforms a communal creed whose meaning is built upon the historic confession of Christians for centuries into a personal one whose meaning is built upon how an individual feels about that confession at any given moment. It robs the Nicene Creed of its power and authority and forces it to submit to latent individualism.

But the Nicene Creed transcends individual belief. It transcends my doubt and your doubt, our skepticism and our disbelief because it is dependent on something much greater than the whims of our conflicted and troubled minds.

Some days, the Nicene Creed is transcendent. On other days, there's not much left in the it that I believe as I once did, with the conviction that would make it "real" as the video implores. It's not so much that I've dismantled the deep mysterious myths and stories of the virgin birth, the resurrection, the one baptism for forgiveness of sins, the existence of one holy, catholic and apostolic faith. Rather it's that I have realized that these true mysteries of the Christian faith have little to do with how I feel about the content of such stories. On those days when I disbelieve, I proudly proclaim I am nothing more than a robot mumbling through the Creed and allowing the voices of the saints past, present and future wash over me, like a salve, not to restore my faith in belief, but my faith in community. In these moments, I am much more aware that the community of the church is so much more than the sacred stories that bind us together. And, that somewhere between the two— my faith and the historic faith — lies something holy.

It is as fragile as decaying lace. And as beautiful, too.

But it is a beauty tinged with a curse. As the pious above chant of the God begotten of Light, the unfaithful faithful call out in ragged whispers their own stories of Inquisitions, of lost political battles at important councils of faith, of unjust executions in the name of the Christ and of excommunications to shore up power. And, then, there are the ones who could not manage to say some form of the Creed, or say it convincingly enough, and found themselves on the coal-black end of a burning stake. They are God's children, exiled by the Creed, Christians made non-Christian when the faith was forced through the sieve of statecraft. They are our forefathers and mothers of the faith, crucified for unity, now calling out for resurrection.

The recent video sanctimoniously reminds viewers that "some saints have sacrificed their lives in defense of this Creed." We would do well to remember how many heretics — real or imagined — were made to sacrifice their own lives because of it, too.

So, I mumble the Creed with reluctant lips and an eager heart, begging forgiveness for it even as I am healed by it.

Still, I confess it every Sunday, regardless of how real it seems, because what itrepresents — the faith of the historic church — is so much larger than my feelings about.

The Creed saved my faith, completely, and it continues to as I limp along the path of Christ. But I can't help but feel that sometimes, it damns me just as fully.

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.