The anger of Jonah looks silly! (and so does ours)

Now this is just silly.

Now this is just silly.

The prophet Jonah was called to go to his enemy and offer up the hope and Grace of God. After his epic struggle of accepting this call to go to "those people", Jonah sat outside the city and waited for God to rain down wrath on "those people". And, of course we know now, this wrath never happened. Jonah got angry at the whole thing and the story ends with God asking Jonah if it is okay for Jonah to care about a plant then shouldn't it be okay for Got to care about people and animals? 

It has been said that you can go to the area of Nineveh and look up and still see Jonah, sitting there on the top of the cliff looking down, angry that the destruction of "those people" never happened. 

It is silly to think that someone would be that angry for that long about anything. It is silly to be in the base of the valley and look up to see one angry person just sulking. It is silly to see one person get so caught up in anger. Looking at another person who is angry give us a different perspective on our own anger. 

Just as Jonah looks silly, so too we look silly when we are angry. There is much to be concerned about in this world, and those concerns can stoke strong emotions, but let us remember that anger was one of the things the desert fathers/mothers taught seekers to be cautious to embrace.

Just a few sayings:

Abbot Ammonas said that he had spent fourteen years in Scete praying to God day and night to be delivered from anger.

Agathon said, “Even if a person raises the dead but is full of anger, that person is not acceptable to God.”

James O. Hannay in his book, The Wisdom of the Desert, even speaks of the Fathers teachings on anger in this way:

The only point which is really peculiar in the hermits' teaching about anger is that the possibility of righteous anger is altogether denied. No matter how wicked a brother might be, or how serious the consequence of his sin, it was not right to be angry with him. To try to cure another of sin by angry denunciation was the same thing as for a physician to try to cure his patient by inoculating himself with a similar fever, for to be angry even with sinfulness is to sin.

May we be a people who sit in the valley with the Ninevites and repent of our misdoings and have pity on Jonah who sits on the edge of our city, praying for our demise.

This is difficult to do, not of least of which because we are not talking about repenting quite as much as we once did. Just doing a quick search take a look at how the term 'repent' has declined in usage over the decades.


High School reunions and a walking Bible


Recently I attended a wedding of a friend that I met when I was in High School. This resulted in something of a mini-high school reunion without having all the awkwardness of facing someone that you cannot recall their name.

We did what I am sure all reunions of all sorts do - we told stories. "Do you remember when..." "Let me tell you about the time 'this guy' did..." "That was a blast, and so was..." 

Participating in this ritual of storytelling I was confronted with the reality of multi-truth in this world. I have a sense of who I am and it is that sense of self that informs my current action and thought. I tend to think that I am a rather cautious person - thus I don't have a motorcycle. I tend to think that I am a compassionate person who is sensitive to others - thus I don't ridicule people. 

I was reminded that while I may see myself in these ways, friends may see me differently. I have my truth about who I am, but when my friends tell stories about me, they remind me of other truths about myself. 

I am cautious, but I also started roman candle wars and ran face first into anothers knee. 

I am compassionate, but I also put up a poster all around school making fun of a teacher. 

The thing is, I am all of those things. We all are more complex than just the simple narrative we tell about ourselves. We are both sinner and saint. We have a wonderful mixture of blessing and cursing within us. We are more than one flat narrative, we are more than one Truth. We are each a walking collection of stories that tell all sorts of truths about who we are and what our nature is about. In this respect, we each are like walking Bibles - we are a collection of stories that are somewhat loosely connected, some of which we tell all the time and some of which we are very embarrassed of and try to forget and other stories we just don't know but others may. 

Secularism helping religion

Every worldview has gaps in it. These gaps that are exposed when we meet someone with a different worldview and they begin to ask questions of or about us. This is one of the great values of diversity, our strengths may supplement the weaknesses of others and others' strengths can supplement our weaknesses. 

So it is with the religious worldview. Those of us with this worldview understand that we see through a mirror only dimly. The question posed in the previous post is what does the secular worldview have to offer the gaps in the religious worldview? I would like to submit one of the things the secular worldview can help the religious worldview is, perhaps paradoxically, something that used to be the bread and butter of religion - storytelling. 

Jesus was a master storyteller when the people wanted to discuss the issues of the day, he wanted to tell stories. Religious people may be a people of the book, but at the core religious people are people of story. We tell the same story every Christmas and Easter. We use calendars to force us to bump into different stories every year. We are a people who talk about how our story and God's story intersect. 

While we may have great storytelling pedigree, we have moved farther and farther away from telling captivating stories. This is why, no matter how crummy the movie is, some Christians will get excited when a Christian movie is released - we are parched for good stories that we will celebrate even the mediocre stories.

Storytelling is something that the secular worldview is really doing very well these days. Just look at the entertainment industry. From movies to books to video games, the secular worldview understands the power of stories in the same way the religious worldview may, but the secularist worldview makes and takes time to cultivate the storytelling craft.

For instance, there is this great story about a company called the Dollar Shave Club. And in 90 seconds they tell you their story and many of us are compelled to sign up just to be a part of this creative company. A beer company can tell a story in 60 seconds and people talk about it. Even Facebook can tell a great story that borders on sermonizing. 

We will sit through commercials during a sporting event with the full knowledge that these stories are have one goal in mind - get you to buy their product/service. We know these stories are being told in order to get us to open our wallets and we will happily do so. 

Perhaps we are not annoyed at churches that ask for our money or ask us to conform our lives to that of Christ. We are more than willing to do that for companies around the world. Perhaps what we are annoyed with the most about churches is that the stories we tell are just boring and crummy. They are not compelling or engaging. Heck they may not even be interesting! Perhaps we are becoming more secularized because humanity is drawn to stories and we desperately want to hear and participate in the best stories. 

The storytelling monopoly that religion may have enjoyed in the past is now over. And this new storytelling machine, secularism, are telling some amazing stories. 

We religious can learn from the secular by listening to the stories.