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I decided to read Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem by Robert Jones on my study leave. The battle with unrighteous anger or anger expressed unrighteously is never over. I was looking for more help in the struggle. I had high hopes for this book based on the blurbs by Jerry Bridges, Ken Sande, and Paul David Tripp among others.

Do you suspect where I’m going here?

While parts of the book were helpful, I was generally frustrated (angry) and disappointed with the book.

Why would I be angry with a book on anger? I’m hoping that’s not just how I roll.

I think Jones and I have different starting points, presuppositions, regarding anger that led me to find the book less helpful than I had hoped. Perhaps I’ve made my personal struggle into an idol that Jones failed to appease. I don’t know.

But it starts early in what I take as a series of inconsistencies rather than distinctions. On page 18 he notes that most references to anger are about God. This leads him to say “In one sense, God is both the most loving and the most angry person on our planet.” That I agree with precisely because God is love. Unlike Tim Keller (in his sermon The Healing of Anger), Jones does not connect the two. Anger is a response, says Keller, to what we love being threatened.

Jones’ definition is that anger is our “whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil” (pp. 15). On page 19 he applies that to God, leaving in “perceived”. God rightly knows good and evil, there is no perception at play in God’s anger. He follows up slightly to say that “God’s anger is his perfect, pure, settled opposition to evil.” But that he’d pedagogically begin with “perceived” bothers me. Perhaps I’m too concerned with guarding the character of God. I’m not sure. But this sort of theme will pop up from time to time.

He does say that “righteous human anger imitates God’s anger.” But then says little/none of our anger is righteous. His focus is on “sinful human anger”. Perhaps I’d have been less frustrated if I inserted that phrase into any subsequent mentioning of anger. For instance, when he says “Anger is unlike God.” on page 163. This unqualified statement (in its context) makes anger ungodly. I don’t believe that (and neither does he, I suspect).

Additionally, he doesn’t really work out the reality of the imago dei. God revealed Himself to Moses as “slow to anger” (Ex. 34:6) on Sinai in what is a frequently quoted/referenced self-revelation of God. God is not quick triggered or short-fused. He’s not no anger, but slow anger (a phrase Keller uses in the aforementioned sermon). But He does get angry.

Image result for hulk in avengers

“That’s my secret, Captain, I’m always angry.”

God is not ruled by His anger. Unlike us He doesn’t lose it and go into a Hulk-like rage (even though Hulk may be defending something he loves). His is a wise, good, righteous, balanced opposition to the evil at work. It’s not “shock and awe” for the sake of “feeling better”.

James reflects this reality in saying we are to be “slow to anger” in James 1:19. Because I’m made in the image of God, I am to be similarly slow to anger, not to have no anger. I’m not supposed to be like David Banner in the mountains practicing Zen meditation so I’m not angry. Anger serves a purpose, one that I as a sinner am prone to corrupt. This James notes in the next verse. My fallen anger doesn’t help me live righteously.

Here is the crux of my struggle with this book. I get the putting unrighteous anger to death. That really isn’t where I am (or at least think I am). I want help in being “slow to anger” and in applying the Psalmist’s and Paul’s instruction to “Be angry and do not sin”. (Jones does have an appendix on this passage which deals with this text briefly. I’ll say that the imperative being concessive doesn’t remove the point- anger is not inherently sinful but how we do it often is. He seems quite afraid of anger like some people are afraid of alcohol instead of drunkenness.)

Additionally, he seems to make a mistake some, like Jay Adams have made. In the attempt to push back against psychobabble and the ungodly attempt to avoid responsibility he appears to go too far. “We must not blame our family members, our societies, our genes, our parents, our church leaders, society, our hormones, or the devil for our anger.” (pp. 71) Instead we should own that anger as ours. Okay, we do need to own it. But this severely lacks nuance. We shouldn’t blame those people, but as we work through sin we recognize that the curse affects us spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially etc. These can be contributing factors and may be a reason for compassion in light of such sins that may have been perpetrated against us.

Later, he talks about one motive for putting our sinful anger to death: the model we present others. We don’t want to be a bad example to our kids or others. He notes the impact of having an angry friend, being an angry friend. But refuses to put any of this into the equation of counseling wisely to understand how sin operates in your life. I struggle with the part of the biblical counseling movement that follows Jay Adams in doing this. Sometimes the angry person is also the bruised reed and smoldering wick. Life is not frequently clear cut.

I can’t recall where in the early portions of the book, but he says that righteous anger is only that which is God-ward in focus. This means only when I’m viewing the evil as against God. With this I struggle as well. I should be angry when my kids disrespect my wife. They are sinning against her (and God). I don’t think I have to differentiate this in my mind each time I response. But I do have to make sure I’m not sinning in my anger towards them.

This book left me frustrated because I got the impression that ALL my anger was sinful. While he occasionally mentioned the gospel, I was left feeling hopeless in my struggle until Jesus returns. This is part of why I think this wasn’t the book I needed to read, it was not the right medicine for me. Now, I could be completely wrong and just need to repent like he kept telling me. But help me to know, in more than a paragraph, when my anger is a good thing even though I have to be careful regarding how I express it. In this regard, Good & Angry by David Powlison was a much better book.

The book does have good points to it. He does a good job in applying James 4 to our anger. Much of it is about our idols. In this regard he’s tracking with Powlison and Keller. He gets, as does Tripp and Powilson, into the distinction between God’s kingdom and ours and how that drives our anger. Righteous anger tends to be about God’s kingdom (more helpful than his earlier statements) and unrighteous anger tends to be about my kingdom being blocked. We do need to be asking these questions of ourselves regarding our anger. He makes good distinctions in dealing with revealed and concealed anger. But even here the table of contents (perhaps the work of the editor) has “sinful revealing” and “sinful concealing”. Not much is about how to righteously reveal or conceal anger.

One of my existential struggles is discerning in a particular instance whether my anger is about what I think is blocking God’s kingdom, or blocking my kingdom. The heart is deceitful. The lines are not always clear. Perhaps I was demanding he help me resolve this pertinent issue for me, and he didn’t.

He also addresses anger against God and ourselves well.

So, the book has merit. If you are looking for a book focused on identifying and putting your sinful anger to death, then this will be a good book. If you are looking for a book that will also help you express proper anger in helpful ways, then Powlison will be a better choice for you.

 

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I feel like I’ve been here before. That’s because I have.

I’ll be here again, too.

That’s the way it is when you love someone with Alzheimer’s. It’s like they die ten times over. There are these milestones. When they don’t know who you are anymore. It’s as if they cease to exist. Or maybe it is a part of you that dies on that day.

They they go to a nursing home, a memory care unit. It’s like they die again. That grief returns. I’m not liking this very much.

I knew it was coming. I mean it was inevitable. My father has been brave, valiant and persevering in loving the woman who no longer remembers his names, the 50+ years of marriage to him… nothing. But he still cared for her thru those Jekyll and Hyde moments. Thru the incontinence. Thru the moments of irrational fear.

He’s worn out. They were no longer sleeping in bed, but in the living room. Life reduced to her wants and desires.

He’s out of shape. Too many meals out. No longer taking walks because she couldn’t.

An opening came up. $12,000 a month for a double room. Is this what it has come to?

Thankfully another room at another facility became open. A single room for less than the double room. And Thursday he told us this will happen Monday. Heart hits the floor again. This is really happening.

The grief comes at inconvenient moments. I wish it would make an appointment for when I was available. But it comes when I need to write a sermon. I have to compartmentalize the pain so I can function. Best I can figure is that it “metabolizes” into anger.

I realize how isolated I am as a pastor. Where was the friend who would say “I’m taking you to lunch.”? I feel very much alone. Then again, I’ve been alone much of my life.

It happens in the parking lot of the vet’s office. “Why don’t you just cry there?” “What so someone can call the police about a crazy man crying in a parking lot? So I can freak out my daughter?” Stuff it again, so I can get her new ballet shoes and batteries for the irrigation system and van fob. Wait until it turns into anger, again. The horrible, freaking anger.

I called the kids to the table last night to give them a heads up. Daddy’s parents didn’t help him learn this stuff. I hate that I am this way, and long for something better for them. I want to go someone far away so I don’t hurt the ones I love. I’ve become the Hulk. Only I don’t become big and green. While I don’t lose my clothes, I do want to smash. Crying would be better for all involved. Just not in parking lots.

Back in 1992 Andrew hit South Florida. That is sort of an understatement. Steve Brown lost his house and offices. Soon thereafter his mother passed away. He would frequently tell people, “I’m homeless and my mother died.” It was part of his way of dealing with it.

Well, I’ve got a home, but my mother keeps dying.

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We all struggle with anger. It is part of the human experience. Some of us struggle more than others. And our struggle may be different. Some people struggle to show anger. Others are always a road rage incident waiting to happen. Books about anger are varied in their approach and their quality.

Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness by David Powlison is a new book about anger. It is one of the better books on the subject of anger.

He begins by identifying our problem with anger. It isn’t simply the guy with the red face, huffing and puffing while he yells at everyone. Anger is more nuanced than that. It is also expressed in irritation, frustration, complaining and arguing. When we have a more appropriate, more encompassing definition we see that we all have anger issues. He describes the various relationships we have with anger, and the lies we can believe about our anger. He spends time explaining that this book really is about you, and everyone else.

He then explains anger as a function of love. If you never get angry you really don’t love anything or anyone. This is why God gets angry: He loves. He loves His people. He also loves all that is good and holy. Anything that harms His people or violates His goodness is subject to His anger. He responds with anger. Because He is righteous, His anger is always in the proper measure and about the proper things. Ours? A mixed bag. Sometimes we are angry because our “rules” are broken, our kingdom threatened; not God’s. Or our anger is too much or too little for the sin in question.

This means that anger is “natural”, a part of being in the image of God. But like that image, it is now distorted because of our sinfulness.

Powlison moves into the constructive displeasure of mercy. It “holds out promises of forgiveness, inviting wrongdoers to new life.” Anger can motivate to destroy sin. But it can also motivate us in constructive directions like patience and forgiveness. Anger isn’t always given the final word, sometimes that word is forgiveness.

“God is love, and God is slow to anger. He intends to make us like himself. To be slow to anger means you are willing to work with wrong over time.”

He distinguishes, quite helpfully, between attitudinal forgiveness and transacted forgiveness. The first is about you. It does not require the other person to ask for forgiveness. It is about letting them off the hook, absorbing the loss so you no longer want to destroy them. This enables you to approach them to reconcile which is the essence of transacted forgiveness: reconciliation. You can forgive without being reconciled (with an abuser for instance). Remembering that it requires two to be reconciled, you can forgive even though the other person doesn’t want to be reconciled or admit they’ve done anything wrong.

“The attitudinal forgiveness means you can always deal with things that poison your own heart. Transacted forgiveness and actual reconciliation are desirable fruits, but not always attainable.”

He then moves into two other aspects of constructive displeasure: charity and constructive conflict. Charity is, in some ways, hard love or love in hard times. You continue to seek what is best for the other person. Constructive conflict moves toward the person to do that hard work of not simply reconciling, but addressing the sin that sabotages the relationship.

The chapter entitled Good and Angry? focuses on God and His anger. His anger fills the Bible because the Bible is filled with humanity’s rebellion. Our anger does not need to be suppressed, but remade, redeemed. He then moves to James 4 to help us explain why we get angry. We are looking out for ourselves and our kingdoms. I noted in my margin that “we are all Frank Underwood building our own house of cards.” He then moves us to the reality that God gives more grace and what change looks like.

Powlison than proposes 8 questions to take your anger apart so you can be put back together. These questions are attempts to apply what he’d been talking about from James 4.

He then has a series of chapters on tough cases: forgiving unspeakable sins, the everyday angers, being angry with yourself and angry with God. This was, in my opinion, some of the best material in the book. He addressed topics that aren’t often addressed, at least helpfully.

While this is a very good book, I thought the real strength was in the second half of the book. He uses questions at the end of each chapter to help you process and apply the material. I need to go back over those questions. Since anger is such a common problem this would be a helpful book for pastors, elders, parents and just about everyone. It is accessible, easy to understand and helpful. It is a helpful addition for your library.

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11001532_10206025186488500_1318611866669102824_oMy mother has Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in the Fall of 2013, if I remember correctly. That’s because I went to visit my parents in the summer of 2014 and she was to the point that she didn’t know who I was.

I never got to say ‘good-bye’, at least so she’d know what was happening. It is hard to see a person who looks like your mother, but who doesn’t remember the last 60 or so years of her life. She doesn’t know who my father is, and calls him “The Boss”. The woman I knew is gone.

She lives in fear. She’s always been a fearful person, but there is less of a capacity to deal with her fear. When I visited with the kids she nearly panicked if they were even remotely near the road. But having them play outside was better than having her not letting them play inside (as happened on a previous visit).

It is tough to consider her life. In many ways she had a hard life as a kid. In some ways this made it difficult for her to be a mother, and to be her son. Nothing like Mommie Dearest, but difficult.

She was born in 1936, shortly before WWII. She was the eldest of 9 kids, and the only girl. That had to be difficult. I think that she, as a kid herself, raised some of her brothers. In some ways I’m not sure she had a childhood, or really knew how to be a mature parent. She did the best she could.

That was actually her understanding of life: God expected you to do the best you could. At least that is what she told the Mormon missionary who came to our door when I was a young Christian. I wish this were so since she was a nominal Catholic who did her best to raise us in the Church. I, her last son, was the only one to be confirmed. Having fulfilled her commitment, I was now free to choose whether or not I went to Mass. I didn’t.

As a teenager I felt like the Gerry Cooney of our family- the last Great White Hope. All my parents hopes seemed to be set on me. That is only my perspective. They never said that. But I was the one who went to college. I am the one with advanced degrees.

She also carried secrets. When I graduated from high school we all went out for dinner. She had a little too much wine, and the next thing I knew I heard about a miscarriage. The woman who had 8 brothers, and at the time had 2 sons lost a little girl. If that girl had been born, I wouldn’t have. I know of a few more, but who knows how many secrets she carried until she lost them all.

I struggled as I fell into the family’s sins. There was warning, but no apparent capacity to help me untangle myself from those sins. One of those sins was her sin- she was an angry person. At times my friends and I took a hellish delight in provoking her to anger.

My real struggle was with her apparent lack of boundaries, or at least her inability to respect mine. She thought she was being helpful. I thought she was being intrusive. I loved her, but I wanted her to realize I was an adult. I think she figured that out by the time I got married, when I was 36.

I think this desire to still parent kids drove her for years. She would baby sit for teachers at the school down the street.

Oh, there were positives. She was the saver in the family. She tried to pass that frugality on to us. She made me save my money from the paper route to pay for driver’s education. When I had it all, she only made me pay half of it. That was a bit frustrating, since I could have taken driver’s ed earlier.

Relationships with parents can be complex. As I tried to sort ours out, I didn’t always handle it well. As a young Christian I wanted something better for them than “doing their best.” I wanted her to know the freedom of forgiveness, to stop having to protect those secrets. I was probably disrespectful. At times I pushed. I didn’t understand how authority affects evangelism. They probably had not idea what to do with me. Thankfully they didn’t cast me out after my conversion like a few of my friends did.

Later, while in a counseling degree program I was angry. I withdrew. It was my relationship with my eventual wife that changed it. Family is important to her. I also knew I had plenty of baggage and I didn’t want her to suffer for the sins of others. I began to address my own anger. I began to realize that my parents didn’t have the capacity to understand or own up to certain things. I couldn’t wait for an apology before forgiving them.

I think CavWife was the only daughter-in-law she liked and respected. I think. It was hard since she really didn’t reach out to CavWife. I’m glad she got to hold her granddaughter. I’m glad she got to visit us here in AZ. My kids did not get her sense of humor. Oh, well.

I still deal with the debris, but I’m choosing not to hang on to things.

Another incremental step in her decline presses in. I’m not sure the best path for my father to take. I’m not sure how to support him from 2,000 miles away.

It still makes it difficult to process her absence because it was a complicated relationship. As a result my desire to mourn seems complicated too. And not just because she is here but also isn’t. I reach for thoughts and words but they seem so slippery.  I’m left with memories, conflicting and confusing (at times) memories.

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I don’t actually go to the movies very often. Way too expensive to happen as often as when I was younger. So, I wait for the movies that beg for the big screen: action. The Avengers is one of those movies whose siren call I could not resist. And I was not disappointed.

I really wasn’t into comic books as a kid. Some of my friends were. The medium was just lost on me. Seemed too much like the children’s books. I don’t know. But I’ve always enjoyed the movies starting with the Superman series when I was a teenager. Okay, just the first two. Did they make any others?

This year will be comic book hero heaven as they wrap up the Batman series, re-boot the Spider-Man series with a darker take (why did they do this again?) and introduce The Avengers series. They have been building toward this with the 2 Iron Man movies and then both Thor and Captain America last year. Those two movies introduce some key elements to the plot of The Avengers. I only saw Captain America, but I was fully able to follow along with what was happening in The Avengers. Some of the other characters appeared in some of the Iron Man movies.

Mark Ruffalo is in there, somewhere

So, you walk into the movie having back stories on some of the Avengers. This is the third movie for Hulk, and the third actor playing him. The second was essentially a reboot of the first (and much better). Edward Norton did a great job as Hulk, but apparently fans just miss Bill and Lou because Hulk, despite his incredible strength and jumping ability can’t get off the ground as a series of movies. Enter Mark Ruffalo with his take on Hulk (this is turning into the first Batman movie series: both Kilmer and Keaton were very good, and Clooney utterly horrendous). It is almost like the other two movies didn’t exist. Mark is sort of the hippie Hulk. The laid-back genius who is supposedly angry all the time. He was better than Eric Bana, but … Apparently I am in the minority because Ruffalo has been signed to additional movies. Sadly, Edward Norton has gone the way of Val Kilmer: a great actor with a bad reputation for working well with others (rumor has it, that in Val’s case the directors probably should have listened to him more often but you know how that goes).

Hawkeye and Black Widow share a moment

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Last night CavWife and I went to the screening of a new movie called October Baby. It was made by some old friends of hers, the Erwin brothers (not to be confused with the Coen brothers). Andy made our wedding video for us. They have done contract work for ESPN and have made a number of Dove Award winning music videos. This is their first full length movie.

This is a pretty good movie. The subject matter is pretty serious, but they have enough comic relief to not overwhelm you. When the movie gets the most serious, the comic relief is nowhere to be found so you aren’t too distracted. At times it moves a little slow. But what do you want for the first time out?

The movie begins something like Sweet Home Alabama, 2 childhood friends running toward the water hand in hand. The boy and girl are close friends. It fast forwards to their college years. Someone has come between them creating a discomfort. This is her big night as the lead actress in a play. After she collapses we learn that life has not been easy for her. She’s had a number of physical ailments, and some emotional ones too.

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Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions that Control You by Andy Stanley is a pretty good book.  Andy is a great communicator.  That means, for the most part, the book is interesting, easy to read and potentially impactful.  It is an updated version of It Came from Within.

His premise is that most of us are controlled by guilt, anger, greed and jealousy.  I would agree that these sins- I have a hard time calling greed an emotion- make war on our souls and flow out of our hearts.  His theology, as a pastor he should have a theology, is fuzzy at times.  He’s a bit inconsistent as to whether they flow out of our sinful hearts or attacking our hearts.  It does matter.

Andy seems to be writing for unchurched or newly churched people.  This, it seems, is his niche.  He avoids theological terms, which is perfectly fine.  At times, however, it is shorter than it need be on theological concepts.  So, while it is far deeper than most self-help books, at times Andy doesn’t go far enough.

First he identifies each of the 4 in order.  Then he cycles through them 2 more times in how to confront them and how to put on new habits.  He is typically clear and practical in his orientation.  I found a fair amount of the book pertinent to my own life and struggle with sin.

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