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Archive for August, 2015

Be Quick, Be Slow

“. . . everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.”  James 1;19b (CEB)

As a former Lutheran, I studied Luther’s catechism, and I learned the creeds, read the Bible, and learned about religion, particularly the Lutheran denomination.  I remember hearing (more than once) that Martin Luther called the Epistle of James a letter of straw.  While I never really understood what that meant, I made the assumption that it wasn’t a really positive critique of  this book in the New Testament.

Our high school Sunday school class was made up of about six of us teenagers, and I got into an argument with one of the boys about the way to salvation.  The letter of James focuses on what we DO so much, I guess I really believed at the time that we entered heaven through our good works – heresy!  My dad, who was our teacher, got quite a kick out of our debate, and he wisely never entered it with the “correct” answer but let us discuss it.

As someone who has a lot more experience, two divinity degrees, and a good amount of Bible study and reflection under her belt, I realize now that I was ignoring “by faith alone.”  However, I still believe that our behavior is a product of our faith, and the way we live and interact with each other in Christ-like ways is part of following Jesus.

So, in James 1:17-27, we find more of the “James-isms” to help us in our relationships.  Be quick to listen – what a different world we would have if everyone really listened!  I can’t even count the number of parishioners who tell me that they didn’t know anything about an upcoming event, even though it was in the newsletter, bulletin, and announced during church.  How many relationships would be healthier if we took time to focus on the other person and REALLY listen to what they were saying, to their concerns, to hear their needs? Listening is a gift we give each other, and so many of us do it so badly.

When I was in seminary for my Master of Divinity degree, my advisor would interact with me and her other students, as well a the faculty, in a way that taught me about listening.  She focused on that person as if he or she was the only other one in the room.  She listened with her mind and heart, and I always knew she had heard me.  What a gift she gave me!  I strive to do the same, and I still have a way to go, but it is a goal I have set for my own listening skills.

Be slow to speak.  I think I can really learn from this one, too.  As someone who wants to fix other people’s problems and pain, I find myself (every so often) jumping in to try to offer advice or becoming involved in a triangle.  Being more aware of how I triangulate has made me not only slower to speak, but also a better listener.  If the situation doesn’t need my presence, advice, or problem solving skills, I need to let the other folks figure it out unless they want me to be a mediator.

Be slow to grow angry.  It really takes a lot to make me angry.  Well, it used to, anyway.  As I grow older, I think I’m becoming more impatient and reactive.  Fortunately, I’m still able to stop to think before I speak – at least most of the time.  It’s been a long process of learning to keep my mouth shut, work through whatever it is that bothers me, and then act appropriately or not.  It’s not easy, especially when you want to do what my husband called “the shirt front” reaction.

I think the words even in just the half verse above from James 1:19 offer some very good advice.  Maybe James really can teach us about relationships – Jesus did – so I suspect that James is reflecting the teachings of Jesus.

How well do you listen to someone or even to a situation?

In what ways do you stay quiet to process something?

How can you hold your anger so it may be expressed appropriately or maybe not expressed at all?

Dealing With Anger

Be angry without sinning.  Don’t let the sun set on your anger.  Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil.”  Ephesians 4:26-27 (CEB)

When I was growing up, I was taught that anger was wrong; therefore, I wasn’t supposed to even feel angry.  As I grew up, I realized it was impossible to NOT feel anger at times, and for years after I was on my own and trying to “make my way” in the world, I struggled with how to deal with my anger.  I suspect that many others have had the same issue.

For some reason, we often read these verses in Ephesians incorrectly, as if we are supposed to be above human emotion and not have any anger.  Yet that isn’t what this passage says.  The first phrase is “Be angry without sinning.”  Okay, so how do we do that?  It’s a matter of how we express our anger.

If we “stuff it,” we will carry it around and become rather unpleasant people.  I have a parishioner who finds nothing but the worst in any situation.  If you ask, “How are you doing?” the response is a shrug of the shoulders and a muttered response of some kind that indicates life is horrible for this person.

If we express our anger loudly, others stay away from us and want nothing to do with us.  We are labeled as short-tempered, obnoxious, or unstable.  And not sinning could include a whole list of behaviors that go with anger.  Most of the time in relationships, anger only turns itself inward on us, hurting us more than anyone else because it can destroy relationships.

But maybe the writer of Ephesians wasn’t talking just about us as individuals!  Remember, the letters were written to congregations, so the intention seems to be more how to get along as a church community, as well as how we interact with others in the world.

Justifiable anger can be productive.  Jesus was justifiably angry when he saw the poor of his day being exploited, excluded, and excommunicated from the temple and society in general.  His message, over and over again, was to care for the poor, reach out to the marginalized, accept and help others.  He was justifiably angry when he overturned the money changer’s tables in the courtyard of the temple because they had made a mockery of a holy place.

When we are angry as individuals, often we are using the word “I” most of the time.  When we are justifiably angry at injustices, we often use the word “they” or “we.”  When it’s all about ourselves, we are also open to sinning against someone else and God.  We forget who we are and Whose we are as we push our own ideas and fail to honor and listen to others.  When it’s about others, we have compassion and find courage to be the voice for those who have no voice.

Of course, we are going to feel anger.  We are, after all, human beings who have very human feelings.  Yet, we also have been given freedom of choice.  We can choose to let go of the anger, to forgive, to reconcile, to move on and let go of whatever it is that has made us angry toward another person.  It’s far more healthy to get it out of our system in positive ways so we don’t destroy our own ways of living for Christ.

Channeling our anger to make a difference turns it into a passion for justice, for acceptance for all.  May we seek to be constructive in our response to anger rather than destructive.  Some good questions to ask ourselves might be, “How will I use this anger?  Will what I say and do help or hurt?  Does the way I work through my anger or express it show Christ in my life?”

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