Category Archives: Theology

James 1: Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak, Slow to Wrath

My favorite book of the Bible is James, so it is fitting that when I am trying for the first time in nearly ten years to begin a daily habit of reading Scripture, contemplating it, and spending some time thinking and praying, that I would begin back with James. James, the doer of the word, not just the contemplator. I like doing and being active and employing what I am learning. I certainly wouldn’t classify myself as a navel gazer, only, though I do a fair bit of that as I try to figure out how to act or use what I am learning. From an article by Saint Andrew’s Abbey, about the relationship between practice and contemplation: “Practice and contemplation were understood as the two poles of our underlying, ongoing spiritual rhythm: a gentle oscillation back and forth between spiritual ‘activity’ with regard to God and ‘receptivity.'”

Today I read the first chapter of James in the Lectio Divina style of reading. In short, in Lectio Divina, the reader quiets her mind, then asks God to guide her through her reading, then reads slowly and meditatively in order to parse out what God wants to show her that day. Then the reader has a prayer dialogue with God about that verse, then finally she rests or meditates in the meaning of the Scripture.

The verses that called out to me as I read this first chapter this morning were verses 19 and 20: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” I spend a lot of time listening to other people, particularly my students, so the beginning of verse 19 that says, be swift to hear and slow to speak reminds me how I should receive people, being real and present with the person who is directly across from you at any given moment.

The goal is to be intent about your interaction with the other person, focusing on the moment and hearing what that person is saying. It’s been one of my goals for the past two years to speak less and listen more deeply and intently. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t, and when I don’t, I find that I later regret that I wasn’t more intent on hearing the ideas, dreams, and concerns of the person with whom I was talking.

The second part, really the third point of verse 19 is to be slow to wrath. Generally speaking, for me, I find that I am more able to be slow to wrath if I have listened well and if I converse with a person to understand who they are, why they think like they do, and how I fit into their world if I do. I think being slow to wrath comes from really taking time to interact with people and to have difficult conversation and in depth sharing from ideas and thoughts, no matter diverse or distinct those ideas may be.

Further, I believe the reason that verse 20 says, “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God,” is that when we don’t listen to others and when we don’t engage others in discussion, we tend to act rashly and with an anger that is superficial and dangerous. However, if we do take that time to listen to both our fellow humans and to God, and when we engage in that heavy conversation and that deep interaction, we don’t get angry quickly.

Instead, we save our anger for things that anger God, like systemic problems that result in disenfranchised groups being further pushed aside, or like domestic problems where people are put into dangerous situations simply because our laws are archaic, or monetary difficulties because churches and government programs are overwhelmed with people who need help.

In short, I think verse 20 is telling us not to avoid anger in every situation, like I was taught when I was younger, but it’s telling us to not waste our anger on human concerns that can be resolved by listening and talking through those concerns. The last few words of verse 20 say that our anger “does not produce the righteousness of God.” This end phrase leaves room for Christians to be angry, but not about human trivialities. We are to reserve anger for those things, which God perceives as unrighteous, unholy, then our anger can produce the righteousness of God.

It’s especially important to notice that these verses are sandwiched between a verse about being birthed in the word of truth, and two other verses about getting rid of wickedness and becoming meek in order to be doers of the word and not just hearers. Part of the appeal of the book of James for me, as I said at the beginning, is that James wants us to act. We are to use our quick listening and slow speaking in order to avoid wrath, but not in order to avoid acting; we’re just not supposed to act rashly and in human wrath.

This morning was a beautiful time of considering Scripture, which I haven’t done seriously in quite some time. Now to employ what I’ve learned and to continue this practice each day.

When You Shoved a Desk at Me as I Walked Past You . . .

I didn’t punch you, like any of the teachers in any of the viral videos punched their students.

I didn’t punch you, because . . .

I am an adult, and adults are here on this earth to nurture and mentor young people, to teach you who you should become as an adult, not to teach you who you shouldn’t become. If I had hit you, I wouldn’t be nurturing you or mentoring you. Most importantly, your decision-making skills will not be fully developed for another 10 years. I cannot expect you to make choices like a mentally-well adult, because you are a middle schooler.

I want, more than anything, for you to grow into a wonderful, smart, caring, kind, and loving man, not the sort of man I will read about in the headlines for doing something mean and heartless. I already had to read about a former student trying to murder his girlfriend, including some graphically sordid details that didn’t need to be in the newspaper. I don’t want to read something like that about you.

On most good days I actually enjoy my job, and I look forward to coming into a school where students, ready to learn or not, will get one little glimpse into the beauty of this world and into the theological concept of grace. My goal, each day, is to teach my students one thing that hadn’t ever thought about before.

I am a pacifist, and even if I wasn’t, I want for you to know that your first response shouldn’t be what can I do back to them, when they’ve done something wrong to you. I should model that a response can be forgiveness, love, and grace, not retribution.

I can control my initial reaction, and I can look you in the eye and tell you, “NEVER do that to me again, because a person’s first instinct is to hit back, or push back, and I don’t want you to get hurt.” I mean that. I really want you think through your actions, your words, your behavior, because I want for you to act with purpose, making good choices, not out of impulse, making poor choices.

You are a kid living with (probably significant) trauma in your life. You don’t need me to add onto that, and I probably didn’t think through this one hard enough when I got angry. Instead of talking through your actions with you and helping you to see how many other good and pure choices you could have made, I spoke harshly, punished you and your classmates who were laughing, and then made you work in silence.

I love you, even when you don’t love yourself. Even when your sole mission is to entertain the other kids in the class with behavior that is the opposite of what you know is right and good, I love you, and I want the best for you. At this point, it feels like I love you more and care about you more, than you love or care about yourself.

Our Father?

I was inspired, by an article I read this week, to think about the divine feminine and to really consider my relationship with patriarchy and tradition in the Church. My relationship with the Church is tenuous at best, but my relationship with God is enriching and fulfilling. While I have a great reverence for historical Christianity, I also have a very suspicious eye aimed toward those systemic prejudices that are embedded within it.

I was then prompted to share this with you. I’m not really one to share my prayer life, since I feel that it could be much more deep and much more intentional, but I do think I’ve learned how to redirect traditional prayers in a way that feels more personal to me, while also maintaining the traditional aspects that I love so much.

cross

Traditional “Our Father”:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Amen.

The way I pray it:

“Mother-Father God in heaven, you are holy. Help me to practice your kingdom and your will here on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us what we need, our daily bread. Forgive us, as we forgive. Help us not to be tempted, but keep us from evil. Yours is the kingdom. Yours is the power. Your is the glory. Forever and ever, even unto the ages of ages. Amen and amen.”

There isn’t a huge shift in the language, but addressing my petition to a God that is called both Mother and Father was a huge leap in my faith and a difficult step when I first made it. The more I pray, and the more direct and intentional my inner spiritual life becomes, the more I feel secure in my choice and practice of viewing God as both feminine and masculine, both or neither.

If I am honest, I believe God exists outside of gender. Generally, I refer to God as [They] or [Them] in order to honor the three persons without prescribing a gender on an entity that exists outside of our finite understandings.