Tag Archives: Anger

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.

A New Sabbath Day

I want and need a Sabbath, one day each week that I can count on to be strictly my time to spend with God, family, writing, and art, so the one day I said I wouldn’t work at Caribou is Sunday. Fortunately, Caribou eases you in to a full schedule, so I had yesterday and tomorrow off as well. Today we tried out our new Sunday thing, plan, routine, whatever you want to call it. Since Bec and I have radically different ideas about what we like in church, we’ve decided to have the best of both worlds and just attend two services. First, we get up early and head to St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul, and then we head to Awaken Community in Lilydale. It’s a nice balance and nice way to start the Sabbath. And we get to see the children and grandchildren at Awaken, so that’s a pretty nice bonus. After church today, we came home, had lunch, and then napped. We’re exciting, I know.

We (Bec, Ann, and I) spent yesterday going to the Uptown and Powderhorn Art Fairs. We walked forever and looked at lots of amazing arts and crafts. I bought a card for my mom, a birthday gift for my brother, and an anniversary gift for the Combers. And if any of them read this, I just spoiled the surprise for them all. As we walked, I kept thinking about how God has honored my heart’s desire to have time off of work and to have a job I don’t bring home with me. I couldn’t get the image of myself, sitting in one of those booths and selling my own artwork, out of my mind. Even if it’s only a dream for now, since I have just begun sketching, it’s the freest I’ve felt in a long, long time.

For my first little venture back into the art world, I plan to create a set of prints based on this poem by Wallace Stevens. There have been several interpretations of this poem created by several artists in a few diverse cultures. Artist Joan Colbert hand pulled my favorite set of linoleum block prints that is currently in existence. You can see them here. However, I think there is still room for me to add my voice into the mix, because my style of block printing has a bit more texture in the white spaces, and I plan to print both black and white on brown paper, adding some pastel work into the final prints.

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I got to Minnesota about three weeks ago. Today is August 3, and I arrived on July 11. Just after I got here, or more specifically on my 40th birthday, I made some simple goals, things I’d like to improve upon in my life. Here they are (again): quit smoking and drink only on weekends or not at all; eat primal with one “cheat” day a week; no ice cream; get a job; capitalize on quiet time (read, write, art); and run/walk, bike, swim. Since setting these goals, I’ve accomplished several and am still working on others. I struggle with the ice cream thing. It gives me joy. I’m going to keep eating ice cream for a while. I’ve started adding a brief bit of meditation into my morning routine, and I hope to add it into my evening routine as well. Meditation helps me to quiet my busy mind in a way that nothing else does; I can release my anger and sadness and cultivate compassion and joy through the simple act of breathing.

I’ve created one new goal in all of this, which I mentioned before, but I am going to mention again, and probably keep mentioning. I want to finish the Muncie 70.3 for my second time next July. I want to do it again to prove to myself that I can and to get a better time than last and to just be healthy again. I’ve been running and biking, and I will start swimming later this month, so I know I can do it. I just need to stay focused and remember that I am doing all of this to take care of myself and be well.

I Still Have a Long Way to Go

“Dissimulation, half answers, vindictive attitudes, a false presentation of self are all barbs in the soul of the monastic. Holiness, this ancient rule says to a culture that has made crafty packaging high art, has something to do with being who we say we are, claiming our truths, opening our hearts, giving ourselves to the other pure and unglossed.” —Joan Chittister from The Rule of Benedict

Just when I think I am moving in a good direction with my life and my attitudes, I get this reminder that I am really just clay, water, and some divine breath. There are a few things that set me off in a really bad, fast, almost flashpoint-anger way. Being called out about things in front of other people is one of those things that sets me off, and there is nothing worse than my unrighteous anger. There is no dignity in responding with the same behavior that angers me to start with.

Yesterday during our faculty meeting, there were several things said that I took personally. Whether they were personally directed at me, or whether they simply felt directed at me, I will never know, but what I do know is that I got angry enough to raise my voice at a colleague and then leave the room. All of this after I just had a conversation with Andy about how I felt that this Lent, studying and writing and making big decisions, had really changed me. I was as angry with myself as I was with my colleagues.

I know that people have bad days, and I know my Wesleyan theology well enough to know that I must keep striving for perfection/sanctification. I know that’s why it’s called sanctifying grace, because it isn’t something that just happens—of course the grace to long for sanctification is a gift—but actually getting there is something that we must strive toward, giving ourself opportunities to learn along the way. Sometimes the learning of these lessons is hard, though, and I end up eating a lot of crow.

I feel like that at some point, I should be able to put away my childlike things and behave like an adult. If you’ve read any other posts in this blog, you’ll know that I don’t really want to be an adult, and I covet those moments when I can recapture some bits of childlike innocence in play or thought. Maybe, in fact, this “dissimulation, half answers, vindictive attitudes, a false presentation of self” is really adult behavior. Maybe this is what happens to us when we become adults: we get mean. I don’t know many children who behave as badly as many of the adults I know.

I want to be one of those people I love to be around. I want to bring peace and light to every conversation. I want people to leave being with me, like I feel when I leave being with some of my friends. I want people to leave a conversation with me feeling like both of us were changed by the encounter, like we were real and present with each other, paying attention only to the moment between us. Right now, I feel really self-absorbed, distracted, aloof. I want my life to look like this: “being who we say we are, claiming our truths, opening our hearts, giving ourselves to the other pure and unglossed.” I want to exude Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead. I want to offer grace, not condemnation. Basically, I want to live in the image of God, so that I can forget I am simply clay and water, by focusing more and more on the divine breath and the way it breathes through me.