In Case of Fire

[Word count: 2042. Approximate read time: 7-8 minutes]
DISCLAIMER: After nearly 9 months, I decided to uncensor this post on February 16, 2013. You’ll see indelicate language sitting right beside scripture. If this offends you, then my half-hearted grawlix probably weren’t going to appease you either way.

Amen, brothers and sisters. This morning, the text is coming from the book of Marvin Gaye in the 1,978th year of our Lord Jesus Christ. Turn your gatefold double LP to the first disc of Here, My Dear. Now, if one saint would volunteer to read “Anger”:

“Up and down my back
In my spine, in my brain
It injures me
Anger can make you old (yes, it can)

I said anger can make you sick, children
Anger will destroy your soul

Rage
There’s no room for rage in here
There’s no room for rage in here
Where is the place to go to be mad?”

May God add a blessing to the reading of Marvin’s lyrics. I know what that kind of anger feels like. It’s like the entirety of your being is on fire, a walking state of emergency. Your emotions, your coping mechanisms, the steadiness of your perception, all covered in heat from tip to toe. Malfunctioning. You can’t think about anything but finding the quickest way to put out the flames. So can anyone tell me what is the proper Christian way to be angry?

HWJF (How would Jesus fume?)

I have no idea how to be angry like Jesus. If Jesus hung on a cross for our sins and “never said a mumbling word,” that would be the first place my savior and I differ. I would make it my business to diligently cuss and spit at every centurion in my radius.

The examples other Christians have set for how to cope with anger seem unduly focused on controlling your behavior. Look outwardly calm always. Do not let the saints see a balled fist. Instead, curl your tongue securely around the words you wish to say and do not let go. Bonus points if you can smile at your offender. Paydirt if you vow to pray for them and pull off the performance.

A quick look at an indexed guide to what the bible says about anger, and I find scripture after scripture that simply says, “don’t do it.” Be not angry. Do not give place to anger. Anger rests in the bosom of fools. Ask most Christians about it, and you’ll likely hear Ephesians 4:26. “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”

That’s all well and good, but it’s a bit late. I’m already angry and the sun has gone down on it twice. Technically I’ve sinned not, unless you count the molasses-slow drivers on the 5 freeway that I barked at to get the fuck out of my way tonight. And I’m sure that counts.

Just what?

“All my emotions, I give them to you. My feelings of hatred, bitterness, unforgiveness, jealousy, and revengefulness too. All these emotions and feelings that are not like you, Lord, I give them to you.” —LaShun Pace, “Emotions

When I’m already angry, nothing exacerbates it like hearing a dismissive “Just let it go.” “Just get over it.” “Just move on.” Just?! That’s one of few four letter words I still find offensive. It tidily minimizes that unpleasant emotions don’t just go away because you ask them to. “Oh I don’t fancy a frown today, governess. Now be off with you. Go on.” It’s never that simple. Just.

And I have the biggest issue with “Just give it to God.” People say that, but they rarely explain what it means. If I could bundle up these half-charred and still smoking feelings and leave them on an altar to never again singe my fingertips, I would. I just want to get back to who I was before any offense occurred. Two days of walking around like Michael Jackson in a Pepsi commercial gone wrong has run me low. How do I get this to stop?

My friend described her “giving it to God” as taking your concerns, covering them in prayer, releasing the responsibility for them to God, and in exchange, God gives peace. That runs according to Phillippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I believe that that scripture works………  slowly.

Let me remind you: I am on fire and looking for the quickest way to put out the flames. Giving it to God seemed like it was gonna take too long. I wanted to solve the problem with something fast, percussive, and resolute. An F-bomb paired with a bitch-slap, for instance. Perhaps a heated exchange of words. And then as a chaser, a halfhearted apology to smooth it over nice and Jesusly, because I’m a Christian, and Jesus is an adverb that makes violent, irrational behavior alright.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” —Ephesians 4:31-32

I keep re-reading this scripture trying to see if there’s a part of it that I have not violated. Nope. I am fucking this one up most royally. There is no provision in the Bible that sanctions bitch slapping. I still think that should be amended, but that’s for me to discuss with the Father once I get to the gates.

Shoot to kill

I alluded to modes of wartime behavior in “Lay Your Weapons Down.” When offended, victimized, or slighted, there is a protection mode one goes into that will not let you rest. When there’s an offense present, a mechanism inside says neutralize the threat. That mechanism is not equipped with compassion. It’s just there to get the job done.

“When anger really gets the best of us
We’ve really lost our heads
Often say a lot of things, oh darling,
Wish we’d never said
Reason is beyond control…” —Marvin Gaye

The day before, I was laughing, smiling, singing, and writing poetry. The day after, in the throes of still-combusting anger, none of the previous day’s sunny personality traits were accessible. I was not myself. My ability to rationalize was short-circuited. I was processing everything differently. Even good things made me upset.

I could have made several hundred dollars at a job that day. I declined. The thought of being vacuum-packed into a small office with up to six people? Talking? Smiling? Laughing? GTFOH. I found it all quite disgusting. Please. Not while I’m on fire. And I felt napalmed. Could not focus at all.

The injurious energy burning me inside needed an outlet. I needed to knock somebody the hell out. Yes. That will quench the flames. Deep down inside, I have always believed in “you breaka my heart, I breaka you face.” If I can’t do that, at least let me tear someone’s insides out with my sharpest, most savage words. Either way, something needed to be done, and I wanted to be the one doing it.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now

“It’s easy to blame. It’s hard to let grace wash away the memories, or the words, the anger that braces the pain. How long can you stay with your heart in the fire, with hurt locked away?”
—Crystal Lewis, “Give It To Jesus

Something in my heart was definitely locked. I couldn’t get what I wanted in. Couldn’t get what I didn’t want out. I didn’t want to forgive, but I couldn’t forget. Then every time I remembered, the anger flared again. I was knotted with it. In the middle of these emotional convulsions, I took a moment to look heavenward and ask a sincere, “Do you see this? All of the goings-on? What am I supposed to do with this?”

My therapist friend likes to say that anger is a secondary emotion. Normally something else more identifiable and traceable like hurt, embarrassment, betrayal, or rejection is behind it. The brief article I read on it suggests that the root cause may not be revealed until the anger subsides. True to form, after a few days, the blinding fury had dispersed enough for me to see straight again. Once I stopped seeking to place someone’s head on a stick, I could just seek the truth. Truth is medicinal and healing. But it would prove to be less than self-serving.

The offense happened recently at a church, and the anger found its genesis in feelings of being coerced, manipulated, and betrayed (all sore spots from previous unpleasantness while serving in ministry at church). The twist is that the offender in this instance was 100% not guilty. I reacted to what I perceived as a threat based on previous negative experiences, but there was no such intent behind it. (See also: “No One to Blame”)

No one’s head needed to be shish-kabobbed. Had I just asked a few clarifying questions beforehand, I would have understood the offender’s intent, and there would never have been a miscue. In the meantime, Ephesians 4 did a lot to wrestle out of my hands the desire to hurt, maim, and draw comparisons between matriarchs and garden tools. Apologies were given, friendships were saved, lessons were (re-)learned.

“We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” —Ephesians 4:15 (NLT)

Just answer the question

I suffered some ugly first and second degree emotional burns going through this process, but it allowed me an opportunity to haul these anger issues in before God for specific consultation. I got a real-life fire drill for what to do when that happens, and what I should do the next time.

If you’re still wondering about the Christian way to get angry, keep wondering. There isn’t one. Anger affects Christians like it affects every one else. The temptation to sock somebody in the face mid-sentence is common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13). And there are ways out of it. None are as immediately satisfying as a good throat chop, but the Christ-led ones will keep the misdemeanors off your record.

What I am not at all interested in seeing is another Christian with a visible forehead vein and a telltale eye twitch, saying “I’m not angry.” Hell yes, you are. We see it. You feel it. Stop lying to yourself and everyone else. Pray an honest prayer. Confess what is really happening in your heart. It’s not like you can think something God doesn’t already know. Tell the Lord, “if you don’t help me, I could be in jail by tonight with some bulky dude giving me a look I’m entirely uncomfortable with.”

Ephesians 4:25: “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.”

Where God’s word says “be not angry,” I think the way to obey that is to be pro-active about seeking healing, resolution, and clarity in the places of hurt, insecurity, and distrust where we’re vulnerable. Those are breeding grounds for anger. When somebody touches those damaged areas in our hearts and anger springs fully grown from them, simply saying you’re not angry will not make everything okay.

Be aware of your emotional states and protect your heart (Proverbs 4:23). Don’t let offenses fester (Matthew 5:24). Agree with your adversary quickly (Matthew 5:25). And then once unpleasant things are done, don’t keep bringing them up (Proverbs 17:9). Keep a level head, pray about everything, and think positive (Philippians 4:6-9).

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” —Ephesians 4:2-3.

Next time, Lord. Maybe next time.

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4 thoughts on “In Case of Fire

  1. Pingback: Let The Word Of God Dwell In You Richly. Keep Your Heart With All Diligence; For Out Of It Spring The Issues Of Life « bummyla

  2. Pingback: Ask the right question « master of life in earth, sky and sea

  3. Pingback: the common roots of anguish, angst, anxiety, anger, and arrogance « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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