Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; you set me free when I am hard pressed; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. I picked up the phone and dialed one of the most respected ministers I knew: Gilbert Hellwig, the German American pastor of the storied First Baptist Church, Cleveland’s equivalent of Manhattan’s Riverside. Dr. Hellwig listened to my heartbreak, as all good pastors learn to do, then replied wistfully in that ponderous voice of his, “You know? We Christians claim to be people of resurrection and yet we are so afraid to let some things just die. But if we are who we say we are—that is, people of resurrection–we must be willing to let some things die so that new life can spring up, albeit in a very different way.” Continue reading
I drew the short straw and had to preach at our weeknight service, and the lectionary was Titus 3:1-7, which begins “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient…” You can guess how thrilled I was to have to deal with that the day after Trump won the election. But I like what I came up with, and the congregation was tiny, so I share it here in case it’s what anybody needs to hear. Continue reading
During my final year at Stanford, our newly appointed police chief died suddenly and without warning. Chief Marvin Moore was the first African American to hold the position. I found the officers devastated when I went to visit the department and offered whatever help I could. It had been their good fortune that they never lost a serving officer in or out of the line of duty for as long as anyone could remember.
One of the reasons I have not said more about last week’s carnage is that, at the moment, my most charitable response is restraint. You see, a few weeks ago, when I finally got the physical strength to visit my ailing father in the nursing home in Cleveland, I was stopped by a police officer for no apparent reason–other than perhaps a Soundex algorithm gone awry. (Google it.) I pulled up into a gas station so that he would not have to stand in traffic and rolled down the window. He yelled, at the top of his lungs, “ARE YOU DRUNK? SHOW ME YOUR LICENSE AND PROOF OF INSURANCE. WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”
After expressions of forgiveness from the families of “The Beautiful Nine,” a few articles have been written that counter the dominant media narratives focusing on the beauty of the unconditional forgiveness offered Dylann Roof contrasted with the hatred and terror wrought on the community. As I mentioned earlier, I laud the family members for opening themselves to such extraordinary grace, particularly during a moment when the temptation to lash out with hatred and vengeance must have been barely resistible.
Now that the perpetrator of the Emanuel Church massacre has been apprehended and charged, the media is ablaze with heart rending images of family members struggling through their grief to offer forgiveness to Dylann Storm Roof. Many colleagues in ministry, most of whom are faithful allies in mainline churches like my own, the Episcopal Church, where people of color are few and far between, are waxing poetic about the power of forgiveness. I do not doubt the sincerity of my friends and colleagues. But I have to admit, even as a man who works so hard to lead with thoughtful compassion and introspection–much to the consternation of my more pointed and eloquent black colleagues–the readiness to laud forgiveness too early and too often horrifies me.
I’ve gotten some push back on Facebook to my last post, seemingly from some people who hear me saying something rather different from what I mean to be saying. In particular, it seems that my language connotes something different to people whose frame of reference is some of the cruder versions of substitutionary atonement than it does to me. I understand how people who have been hurt by human abuse of the idea of divine anger might not find my affirmation of God’s anger helpful. As I told the person who challenged me on a friend’s wall: if this is not the time for you to be thinking about reclaiming divine anger, please don’t give the matter another thought. In fact, go read some Julian of Norwich!
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” -Romans 1:18
The first post I wrote for this blog was about love and anger. I stand by everything I said in that post, but I’ve learned more since then. I wrote that I believe God is leading me to be more attentive to my anger, and often to let it go. Like the feelings associated with my depression, sometimes my anger is just a wave on the surface of my being. It comes and goes. I acknowledge it, but shouldn’t chase it. It doesn’t touch the deepest part of me, what the Hebrew writers called the heart.
But sometimes it does.
“Let everyone be swift to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” -James 1:19
“In your anger, do not sin.” -Psalm 4:4
Anger is a tricky emotion, and it is one of the things were the direction I have felt called to go is not one that I would counsel for other people. When I first started doing something like centering prayer, one of the first things I noticed is that I was more aware of my anger, and especially more aware of it as it was arising. I usually realized that I had a choice to make concerning it right after I had made that choice, usually the choice of getting angry. I get angry at other people while driving, I get angry at politicians and pundits, I get angry with my family, and I get especially angry with people on the internet. It’s something I may struggle with in my blogging.
Anger is not bad, by any means. Like all emotions, it is morally neutral in and of itself, and it can express love. But it can also hinder the expression of love. It can explode, it can boil, it can seethe. It can turn into hatred of other people, or subtly sabotage relationships.