Tag Archives: self-control

Righteous Anger – A Necessary Emotion

The righteous anger of Jesus, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC

Mosaic of Christ in Majesty, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC. Often known as ‘The Angry Jesus’

The third Sunday of Lent sees Jesus clearing the temple in Jerusalem. It is one of the few times that we see him displaying such raw emotion as he angrily removes the ‘thieves‘ from his Father’s ‘house of prayerMatthew 21:13. Often we consider anger as a negative emotion but there are undoubtedly times when it is right to be angry. It is how we use that feeling and who we direct that anger to that can be important.

The sermon I delivered this morning reflect some of the nuances that I had heard in an Oxcept Lecture by Diocesan Canon Angela Tilby entitled ‘Fragile Selves: Shame and Healing in an Age of Envy‘ and an informal talk given by Reverend Joseph John from St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, Pakistan

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Let’s imagine I am driving down one of the side streets in Hedge End. There is a long row of parked cars on my side of the road, so glancing ahead, as it’s all clear, I pull over onto the other side of the road and start to overtake them. About fifty yards down the road another driver suddenly decides to pull out of their driveway and turn towards me. I can see they are determined to have their right of way. They gesticulate repeatedly that I should reverse back down the road, the whole fifty yards. I in turn glare and gesticulate that it would be easier for them to simply reverse back up their drive, but they are having none of it and start to shout something, which luckily is unheard through the windscreen; and which is also lucky because they can’t hear the words coming from my car either! Eventually, after what seems like several minutes of stalemate, I decide it is easier to simply reverse, and do so rather slowly and erratically as I can feel my heart beating rapidly and tears pricking at the corner of my eyes. The final hand gesture as the other car whooshes past, its driver’s eyes fixed straight ahead, was I feel unnecessary and I have to sit there for a few minutes to regain my composure and let the angry feelings subside.

I knew I’d ‘lost it’, rather like a toddler, kicking and screaming on a supermarket floor, and the whole incident served no real purpose other than to raise my blood pressure and make me feel slightly ashamed. The trouble is that when we ‘lose it’ then our anger, as an emotion, is selfish, destructive, and amoral… However, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians ‘Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger’, which tells us that anger in itself is not an emotion we should avoid altogether

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger
Ephesians 4:26

This morning we heard of Jesus’ very vivid and public display of anger and it comes as something of a shock… although not as much of a shock as it must have been for the animal traders and money changers. We much prefer to think of Jesus as meek and mild, gentle and loving, but as with all of his actions, his anger had a purpose.

And it wasn’t the first time he had displayed this emotion. In Capernaum, with the Pharisees waiting to accuse him of breaking the Sabbath by healing the man with a withered hand, ‘He looked around at them with anger; deeply grieved at their hardness of hearts’. Even his own disciples came in for a tongue-lashing occasionally. When Peter rebukes him for foretelling his death and resurrection, Jesus then rebukes Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’; hardly said with a mild sigh of, ‘Oh Peter, Peter, Peter. Let me explain it one more time’

Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things
Matthew 16:23

When Jesus gets angry he is angry for the right reasons. It is not a selfish anger but focussed on the behaviour and injustice involved. He is not angry about the ‘weaknesses’ of others, but arises out of his concern for their spiritual well-being; they are defiling God’s holiness and in the case of the temple, God’s worship. It does not involve hatred or ill will. He is also fully in control and knew that when he had achieved the desired result of accomplishing God’s will that there was no need to become bitter or to hold grudges

Sometimes we need to become angry about things that are happening around us and in the wider world, at the injustices we see being inflicted on innocent victims, the abuse of children and violence against those who are defenceless, but we need to do so for the same reasons and in the same manner that Jesus has demonstrated. We need to make our voices heard in certain situations where no other voices are speaking up, in other words we need to raise awareness of situations. People are very quick to complain about the church and Christians in general when they ‘poke their noses’ into social situations, but at least it shows we care enough to state an opinion that might upset someone! And we shouldn’t underestimate the effect that holding regular prayer vigils, such the monthly ecumenical world-wide prayers for the Middle East or the annual Women’s World of Prayer can have on bringing issues to a wider audience.

However, should we not be in a position to interact with the public sphere then taking our concerns to God in private can create a safe space in which to express our anger about a situation. As the psalmist points out, ‘With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him’. So there are occasions when we are justified in being angry and there are some things we are justified in being angry about. But what about when we are angry with God? What should we do then?

With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him
Psalm 142:1-2

Maybe we have to ask ourselves why we are angry with God. We often live our lives believing that life is supposed to be easy and that God should prevent tragedies from happening. When he doesn’t, we get angry with him. Sometimes we forget human involvement, with all its flaws and weaknesses and instead think that God has lost control of his creation and consequently our lives, so we blame God. It’s then that we realise our inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that in fact we are not always in control and that when things happen, it is then we have to trust that God understands the reason and that he will give us his peace and strength to get through any difficult situation. Trusting him in this way is an incredibly hard thing to do… but God is a God of compassion and hope, as well as being full of grace and love.

And God does understand when we get angry through frustration and disappointment. He knows our hearts and he knows how difficult and painful life can be in this world. Perhaps instead of being angry with God, we should pour out our hearts in prayer, and trust that he really is in control and that he already knows how these things fit into his ultimate plan for the world

Recently it was brought home to me how this trusting was more powerful than any acts of anger or retaliation could ever be. The Reverend Joseph John is currently on sabbatical at Cuddesdon College. He is a cathedral vicar at St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, Pakistan. When Pakistan achieved independence in 1947 a lot of its schools and hospitals were Christian institutions and even after 1956 when it was declared an Islamic Republic, the Christian communities, which now make up only 3% of the population, were successfully integrated as freedom of religion and equal citizenship was guaranteed to all citizens.

However, on the 22nd September 2013 two Taliban suicide bombers killed over 147 of the congregation at All Saints Church, Peshawar; among several of Joseph John’s close relatives. There was a lot to be angry about

Nearly two years later, whilst still seeking justice from the government, the Christians there have a wish is to be recognised and supported as the church that God called them to be. They know that they cannot simply expect God to produce peace, but must pray and work for it. This means listening deeply and trying to understand people who are different and also seeking to resolve differences without conflict and violence. The work that the church undertakes is not exclusively with Christians, in fact 95 percent of those benefitting from their education, development work and health care are Muslims.

They know that it requires courage and humility, and that it often requires sacrifice; but they continue to serve their neighbours, as Joseph John puts it, ‘by washing their wounds’. Their anger has been channelled into seeking justice and continuing to act faithfully because they trust that God is with them in this work and has a plan for all the people of Pakistan, even if they don’t know exactly what it is at this moment in time.

When Jesus speaks of the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days, those with him are also unable to see the connections to the bigger picture until it is revealed through Christ’s resurrection; then the pieces fell into place. Their knowledge and wisdom is limited to what the human mind tells them is logical. So are we foolish to proclaim Christ crucified, in order to save all who would believe its message? Human wisdom appears weak because it requires proof and concrete knowledge, but God’s wisdom and power dwarfs our understanding and therefore we just have to hand over ourselves to him and trust that eventually that wider vision will be revealed in all its glory. Amen

Concrete things as against those only glimpsed dimly

Concrete things as against those only glimpsed dimly

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
don’t rely on your own intelligence.
Proverbs 3:5

Running The Race

Run in such a way that you may win the prize

Run in such a way that you may win the prize

Sometimes phrases just seem to get stuck in your head for no apparent reason. Over the last few days it has been a quote from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run,
but only one receives the prize?
So run that you may obtain it.
1 Corinthians 9:24

For those whose know me well, they would agree that I have a very competitive streak – I play to win. Whether it is board games or quizzes I will look for strategies that will give me an advantage; but that doesn’t mean I cheat. On the contrary, I’m the one checking the rules to ensure that we are playing the game fairly. I suspect that can make me a bit of a pain to those who simply want to play the game for a bit of fun and even worse when I come up against another person whose aim is to do exactly the same. Self-control can sometimes go out of the window and the sulks can follow it!

The fact is that I was brought up to make sure that whatever I chose to do, it should be given the same amount of care and attention, so that you always do it to the best of your ability. As my father used to say, ‘If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well

The same should be true of our faith life. Over the last few weeks I have been learning and putting into practice new techniques for Christian meditation. I have been learning to control my breathing so that it falls into rhythm with a prayer mantra – Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus – at the same time trying to lay aside the thoughts that immediately fill your mind and run parallel to the prayer, such as ‘I don’t think I’m doing this right, because I’m thinking about the fact that I’m not doing this right!’. It has got better as I’ve practised more, but the problem is not the technique, it’s the discipline to make sure I do it at least once a day that is the hard part and ultimately the most important.

A person can’t watch the Olympics on television and suddenly get up and run a marathon in record-breaking time – It’s more likely that they’ll break themselves. Athletes require discipline to train their bodies so that they can achieve their personal best. In the same way we have to train our hearts and minds to have the strength and control to stay faithful to our beliefs – whether it’s in prayer, meditation, reading the bible or the way we live our everyday lives according to the rules

Being constant and always striving to do your best is never going to be easy, and there will be days when we just want to collapse in a heap by the side of the road and say ‘I give up,’ but failure is not falling down, but staying down. By keeping the prize in mind and reaching for our goals we can force ourselves to get up and carry on so that we might be the eventual winner of the race we have been set.

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:25-27

In the meantime, anyone for a game of Monopoly… but be aware I will be going for hotels on Mayfair and Park Lane!

Competitiveness in a box

Competitiveness in a box

Lenten Days

God Breathed Speck of Dust

God Breathed Speck of Dust

From dust you came, and to dust you shall return. Turn from sin and be faithful to Christ.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent – a period of 40 days, when time is taken to take a long hard look at ourselves; to strip away all that overindulges our minds and bodies and to focus on the days ahead which lead to the joyfulness of Easter. However you chose to mark this Lenten season I pray that it will be a worthwhile time of reflection and renewal.

Lenten Days

A God-breathed speck of dust –
the cosmos expanded to fullness,
then contracted its atoms
moulded and shaped,
quickened by the Spirit.
Alpha – the beginning…

Burnt palms, transformed to carbon silk,
mixed with Holy oil
to anoint the faithful.
A smear of dirt; bisecting lines
not brushed aside, but fade;
absorbed in mental flesh

The Paschal mystery re-centres our thoughts
on the pain and suffering;
and the human world reaches out
with eager hands to grasp
the nettle of contradiction
seen in purple packaged symbols

Self-control required; temptation fought,
leads to a time of reflection and reckoning;
to draw nearer, only to discover
how far there is still to go.
Casting off of habits that cloy appetites,
to cleanse palates and souls
in sparse Lenten days

An anticipation of joy, subdued;
made lean by abstinence
and sharpened senses attuned
to rhythms of restraint.
While lengthening days bring light,
and hope springs in bud and blossom;
announcing promise to the earth
of new life to come