November 1, 2020

“Anger Management”


Proverbs 15:1; 15:18; 16:32; 25:28; 29:11 and Ephesians 4:26


We are living in one of the most contentious times in our nation’s history. There is a lot of bickering going on between political factions as the election draws ever nearer, and I think it is affecting our overall demeanor about everything. Folks are on edge. Tempers are shorter. Not too long ago I witnessed someone coming down the hill next to the OSF theater in their truck slowing down and becoming impatient as 2 men were walking across the street. I was on the sidewalk and the two crossing the street were NOT walking slowly. The driver in the truck honked his horn, told them they were impeding traffic and they began to argue with one another.  It got pretty heated, and it was over nothing, literally!


Were this a normal year, we all might find ourselves in normal conversations with one another over people crossing the road, politics, or the possible impact of a homeless shelter on the neighborhood. However, we are living in a pandemic, feeling the after-effects of a fire disaster and gearing up for one ugly divisive end to a presidential campaign on Tuesday. It isn’t as if the tension and anger will magically end after November 3rd, either. The election will likely be contested. The cure for Covid 19 may be close, but actually distributing the vaccine may not happen until well into 2021. Anger and tension are likely to be part of our societal makeup for a while. What then can we do? How can we navigate through this angry mess?


As we begin our 3rd week in Proverbs, we will find some wisdom for getting through extremely difficult times like the one we are in, ways to deal with our anger, and the anger of others. There is a framework I would like to suggest to you, and it has 6 components. My hope is that through this morning of God’s wisdom, we all can have some healthy and effective ways of navigating a tense, angry world.


First, I encourage you to be led by God’s Spirit rather than your flesh. That, my friends, is not easy. In the midst of an argument or tense situation, remember this proverb- 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Being led by God’s Spirit in such times can turn us to a soft answer rather than a sharp-edged dagger, which then can calm things in an argument.  Paul talks about the struggle to be led by God’s Spirit rather than our flesh in Galatians. In 5:20, he talks about anger, quarrels, dissensions, and how all of that comes from us- from our flesh. In contrast, 2 verses later, he tells us the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Self-control comes from the Spirit of God.


This past week a very long-time friend of mine, whom I love and think of as a brother of mine saw I had posted something regarding the president’s behavior as evil. He of course is an ardent supporter of President Trump and asked me why I felt as I did. I responded by saying that we have differing ideas on the president’s behavior, and let’s just leave it at that. However, he persisted. So, I sighed a few times, prayed, and then in a very long and carefully worded email, I presented my feelings in as a nonjudgmental way as I could, understood he had a different world view then I do, and told him I loved him at the end of the email. I have not gotten an angry response back from him and am hoping we don’t have to get into our differences over our politics again any time soon. Maybe the soft answer turned away wrath?


If you plan to get into a political debate in the next day or two, try not to be led by your flesh, but rather be controlled by God’s Spirit so that things don’t get ugly. Proverbs 25:28 reminds us, “Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control.” As for me, my plan for exercising self-control is to stay off Facebook for the next week or so, just so that I don’t get tempted to get into it again with someone who posts a Russian bot meme or wants to argue over election results. If I fail and do end up in one of those entanglements, I pray I once again remember a soft response turns away anger.


Secondly, recognize your anger and understand the consequences.  Proverbs15:18- “Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife, but those who are slow to anger calm contention.” Proverbs 29:22 - “One given to anger stirs up strife, and the hothead causes much transgression.”


This past week I received a couple of angry phone calls from two of our nearby neighbors, who were up in arms about the winter shelter for the homeless being on our church campus 7 nights a week starting tonight. The second caller, in particular, was very angry with me, and nothing I could say about how the shelter model was the same one that had been so successful last year and had no troubles in the surrounding neighborhood; or that there would be hourly patrols by paid staff on the church grounds; or that the guests would be vetted and have wrap-around care including counseling; or that more than 20 people had gotten into housing last year and that many found full time or part-time work, enabling them to reclaim the life God blessed them with--none of those things would dissuade her. I ruined her neighborhood and she was angry. I repeatedly expressed that if she found herself made uncomfortable by anything that happened in her neighborhood due to the shelter to please call us right away and we would work to rectify the situation. After about ½ an hour on the phone, and her arguing over the same things yet again, I realized she was angry about a lot of things and was venting about it all right directly at me. Tension over the election, feeling powerless from the pandemic, living right next to a devastated community from the Almeda fire, feeling like her voice as a neighbor was not part of the process - it all came crashing down upon me. She began to get personal. I began to get angry at her tone, wanted to respond in kind(to transgress or sin as the proverb warns us), and finally, after praying quickly and taking a breath, I said, “Ma’am, thank you for your phone call.” I then hung up the phone and began pacing and venting in my office. Let’s just say she stirred up some strife in me. It took a while for me to calm down from being angry. Anger can kind of be like Covid - It can easily spread from one person to another and turn into a deadly disease.


Third, learn to rule, tame soften your spirit. Proverbs 16:32 says, One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city.” What are some tactics that can help you express and deal with your feelings, even the ones of anger? I find that running and hiking with my wife and dog help a lot. I have fallen away from running the last few weeks and need to get back to it. I also play old video games, which helps me express my feelings of anger, sometimes to the chagrin of my dog, who keeps thinking I am angry at him when I yell at the game I am playing. Whatever it is that helps you rule and tame your anger, it is a mighty way to be, rather than being quick to anger.


Fourth, dig deep to find the roots of your anger. Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of the human mind are like deep water, but the intelligent will draw them out.This proverb reminds us we need to know ourselves, study ourselves deeply. From where does your anger come? What family roots or history or DNA are part of the anger you have? What things in particular trigger your anger?  I remember my father had a temper, which softened as he aged. I know my familial history is of both Scottish and German heritage, which means I am somewhat stubborn and set in my ways from my German family, and can have a bit of a temper from my Scottish side. I try to be aware of those things, especially when someone is arguing with me on the phone, etc. By being aware of myself deeply, I can know the roots of my own anger.


Fifth, resist the temptation to vent all your anger. I have learned a bit about pipes and plumbing over the last week, with Roto-Rooter working daily to finish putting in new pipes for Calvin Hall. Venting is an important part of the plumbing. The vent pipes allow the sewer gases to escape to the outside, rather than being released inside the house. ... But when water moves through the pipe, it compresses the air ahead of it, creating a positive pressure. This pressure buildup must be released somehow, or the positive pressure will push back on the water, causing a mess. Venting fully allows all the pressure to escape the pipe, letting all the gasses out at once. The caution here is not to let all of our anger vent out at once. Proverbs 29:11 reminds us, “A fool gives vent to anger, but the wise quietly holds it back.” I have been trained in conflict resolution through the Lombard Peace Institute in San Diego. One of the things I learned is that in a moment when someone is attacking us in anger, we feel threatened, and respond to that threat with the smallest portion of our brain, creating what is called a reptilian response. The reptilian response strikes back from a perceived threat, intent to do some form of harm. Above the office door of my last church, I had a picture of a snake, with a red circle around it, reminding me that when someone came in to confront me in anger NOT to respond with my reptilian portion of the brain. Sometimes I am successful. Sometimes I am not.


I also learned that even though someone may be personally attacking you verbally, it might not really be about you at all. It may be about their own experiences regarding the issue, or something else has triggered their anger and you are just the unfortunate target. Trying to remember that in the midst of an argument can be helpful in holding back an angry response. I also like a proverb Gail Johnson said to me once. “Think before you speak. Pray before you act.”


Sixth and finally, Deal with your feelings, especially the angry ones. This isn’t from Proverbs, but it is a good rule of thumb. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” I still remember when Paula and I were engaged to be married and we attended an Episcopalian training for engaged couples known as “Engagement Encounter.” The trainers at that event said how important it was for couples to deal with their feelings and not sit on them, in effect, not to let the sun go down on our anger, but to work through those feelings and come to a place of understanding. One of the tactics they suggested to help in this endeavor was to hold hands when arguing… We did that…Once. We may not be able to hold hands when we argue, but I do think Paula and I make it a point to get through the hard stuff rather than waiting and sit upon our hurt or angry feelings.


18th Century English poet William Blake wrote,

“I was angry with my friend;

 I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe;

I told it not, my wrath did grow.”


So, may God be with us, and may we be led by God’s wisdom in such contentious, angry times. May we find ways to be led by God’s Spirit, to recognize our anger and understand its consequences, to learn to tame our anger, know ourselves fully, and deal with our anger and other feelings. The world in which we live and our relationships we are blessed with will be the better for it. Alleluia. Amen.

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