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Mark’s Musings – What Makes You Angry?

by | Feb 18, 2020 | South District Webpage

How does anger affect our lives? When I was being ordained as a Deacon (back when we had a two-step ordination process), I was asked: “What really makes you angry?” It was obvious to me this was a common question they asked all the candidates. They were waiting to jump on the person who answered, “Nothing makes me angry”. Guess what my answer was? “Nothing makes me angry.” I could see the gleam in their eyes!

Do we get to choose if we are going to get angry? My position is “yes”. I can tell you I have had many people get angry at me for this position! I base my answer on personal experience. My journey towards giving up anger started in 1989 when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was twenty-five years old, and in seminary. I was also the student local pastor of a small church in deep East Texas. I had two cancer surgeries. I was told both times there was a ninety-five percent chance this would be all I would have to Whadown the day my surgeon came into my hospital room telling me my cancer had spread, and I would need chemotherapy. How do we respond when the pastor is the one in crisis?

I didn’t fully understand at the time how fortunate my timing was. I do remember my doctor telling me if this happened ten years earlier, he would have sent me home to die. A few years ago, when I met with an oncologist for follow-up advice, he told me I was on the front edge of patients who experienced long-term survival with my form of cancer. When it was all happening, though, I wasn’t feeling very lucky.

With my chemotherapy, I would go into the hospital for a week at a time. I would recover for a month, then go back in for a week. I did this three times. The chemo made me very sick. Not seeing other options, I continued to preach most weeks, and to take a diminished course load at seminary. I was so weak I couldn’t stand for a whole sermon. I would use a stool to help me make it through the worship services. I had very little energy and was barely surviving.

I remember telling the Board of Ordained Ministry I no longer had the energy to be angry. I had to carefully choose how I used my energy, and there wasn’t enough left to get angry. My answer was not what they were expecting to hear. Since they approved me, they must have believed me.

It would please me to report I never got angry again, but that isn’t the truth. As I recovered from my cancer, my ability to get angry returned. It wasn’t until I was older I realized I was so much happier when I chose not to get angry. I have intentionally worked on removing anger from my life. Sometimes anger still flares up when I’m least expecting it; however, I have learned how to put it aside pretty fast. Anger tends to threaten my personal peace.

Some of the reactions about my position on anger have been pretty strong. I’ve been told to stop talking negatively about anger. That we really can’t control getting angry, and it is unhealthy to not get angry. Many have told me anger is a good motivator. One person indicated I’m “faking” not getting angry (in the old days this would have gotten me mad!). Some have said even Jesus got angry when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple (Matthew 21:12), so we are being faithful when we get angry for the right reasons. I’ve been surprised by how many people have gotten really angry over me being anti-anger!

One of my favorite sermons to preach is on “righteous anger”.  This is when we feel we are fully justified in getting angry. I agree with those who say anger can motivate us to take action. The problem I see with using anger as a motivator is that we usually can’t stop at the right moment. Anger tends to push us across lines, leading us to commit sin. I prefer to use motivators like love. There seems to be less problems if we love too much.

How much anger are we experiencing in our world? Is there any anger in our church? What about in our own lives? As we are quickly approaching Lent, perhaps “anger” is what we should give up this year. It has the potential of drastically transforming our lives if we are willing to take the risk of letting go of it.

Your brother on the journey, Mark

Further thoughts: How would General Conference 2020 be changed if every delegate, and every observer, gave up anger during General Conference? Something to ponder…

 

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