anger

Tossing Jesus Off A Cliff

…And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The group is excited because they are anticipating that Jesus is going to not only do great things among them, but probably even going to give them a little extra. Like when you go to a restaurant and know the server and they tend to your table a little more than others and bring you a birthday dessert even though it is not your birthday. This town is looking to get the hook up, as the kids say.

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Jesus says that in fact God has a history of giving favors to people other than the chosen ones. Jesus cites two times when Elijah and Elisha both were sent not to the chosen people but to the foreigners.

The people around Jesus got super angry and move to give him the death of a heretic. All because Jesus reminded them that God is less interested in giving the “extra good stuff” to the chosen ones and more interested in integrating the ones that the people of God thought were downright unrepentant sinners.

Imagine a group of people agreeing that they are in the right, that Jesus should take care of them first, because he is one of them, and they are the majority. Jesus says he is not going to do that but go to the hated minorities. Perhaps people cry out, but we are the majority Jesus and we are the faithful ones! Jesus might have reminded them that they should be the first ones to understand why he is to go integrate the minority. Instead of seeing that grace compels us to move beyond what we identify as kosher or orthodox, they decided to drive Jesus off a cliff.

But that was a long time ago.

The Legitimate Leader and the She-Bears of 2 Kings 2:23-24

Elisha is the apprentice of the prophet Elijah and in 2 Kings Elijah is taken up in a chariot of fire, leaving Elisha alone to carry the mantle of prophetic leadership. The young Elisha picks up the mantle of Elijah and touches the river. The waters part and Elisha walks across the dry land.

Soon a group of people see Elisha and bow down to him out of respect. Even as they respected the office that Elisha now holds, they might have wondered what happened to Elijah? Did something wonderful or nefarious happen to him at the hands of Elisha? The group asks if they can search for the body of Elijah. Elisha says to not do this, because they will not find the body; which, if you are a conspiracy theorist, sounds suspicious. However, the group still sends 50 men to search for 3 days only to return and tell Elisha that they did not find the body of Elijah. Elisha says, "Did I not say to you, Do not go?" 

Elisha may have felt at this point a sense of frustration. He was shown signs of respect when the group bowed, but they questioned his decision to not search for Elijah. Elisha's legitimacy as a leader is called into question.  

Photo by  Thomas Lefebvre  on  Unsplash

Just after, Elisha walks to a town and discovers the water is bad killing the land and causing miscarriages. Elisha heals the water with some salt. Like Moses making the bitter water sweet, Elisha goes one step farther and heals the water and the town rejoices. As he leaves the town a crowd gathers to mock Elisha. He is called "baldy" which is only obvious if Elisha was not wearing the mantle of Elijah over his head. If he wore the mantle then would the crowd have made fun of him? Once again, Elisha's legitimacy as the leader is called into question.

In response to this claim, Elisha curses the crowd and two she-bears maul 42 people.  

Two sets of stories with complementary suggestions about how Elisha struggled being seen as the legitimate leader. In one case Elisha suggested that no one trusts him and in the other Elisha lashes out to his enemies. 

When Elisha struggles with legitimacy, people get hurt. In this case, young people die.

There was another who ascended to heaven and when his followers came to share this good news, they were considered drunk. When the disciple preached that Pentecost Sunday they, like Elisha, had their legitimacy questioned. They did not call forth She-bears. 

When the legitimacy of the leader is called into question some leaders lash out, curse enemies and call forth destruction. They look sort of like they early days of Elisha. Christianity requires a different response. Notice that Christians are not called "Elishans." Christians do not curse our enemies and wish/cause their destruction - even in the face of a legitimacy crisis.

Disgust, Anger and Clothed In Pseudo-Righteousness

Recently, Abilene Christian University's Dr. Richard Beck spoke at the church where I serve as co-senior pastor and he said something about disgust and anger that is relevant to the current situation within the UMC.

First, when we experience disgust our reaction is to pull away. We see this in our daily lives to be sure, but we also see this in the stories of Jesus. When there was a person considered disgusting, such as a leaper or a bleeding woman, the crowd stepped or pushed away the one thought of as disgusting. This is natural and helpful as disgust is a safeguard toward contracting sickness. We tend to stay away from sick people and even disgusting places (hospitals, garbage, sewers, etc.)

Second, when we experience anger our reaction is to move toward. When we are angered by someone driving on the road we will often drive quickly pass them or even tailgate them. Angry people are more likely to strike another person or at least yell at them so that our voice even moves toward the other person. Anger drives us to protest and act in ways that can be healthy, such as the theological notion of righteous anger.

Within the UMC there are two different postures toward the issues of LGBTQ inclusion and I propose if it is helpful to think not in terms of conservative/liberal but the animating emotions of disgust/anger.

Photo by  Andre Hunter  on  Unsplash

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

There is a direct and an indirect expression of disgust happening in the UMC. The direct expression are those who personally want to pull away or leave the denomination. This position cannot abide in a denomination that they are disgusted by. The indirect expression of disgust is when we make a way for others to leave. We are not the ones who are leaving, but when we make a direct way for people to leave then we still have our disgust action met – there is a separation.

The other animating action is that of anger. These are the ones who are fighting and protesting for their position. These individuals are on the left and right but the action is the same – to drive toward the other in an attempt to subdue, convince, and/or conquer the other. There is also a direct and indirect form of the anger expression. Those who are directly protesting and those who are using the rules of the system to ensure their position is safeguarded and even bolstered. Either way, there is a direct and active engagement with the Church that is driven by anger.

The reality is those experiencing disgust or anger within the UMC have much to teach us and still much to learn.

Disgust teaches us that boundaries are important and that violations of those boundaries for many people trigger disgust. This means that when boundaries are violated or moved then there are many who have a core reaction similar to drinking their own spit. While the spit is in their mouths it is easy to swallow, however when asked to spit into a cup then drink it, disgust sets in. The boundary of where spit resides was moved and thus becomes disgusting – even if the spit is only seconds out of the mouth. Boundaries help keep people safe and disgust alerts us to a boundary violation and asks us to pay attention to this violation, because it may be harmful.

Anger teaches us that it is important to engage with rather than back down from those injustices in the world. And like disgust, anger is triggered when there is a violation. Anger alerts us to these violations and asks us to pay attention to the violation because there may be harm happening.

For as much as those disgusted or angry have to teach us, they also have much to learn. Specifically the limits of disgust and anger. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus shows us where those limits are and also shows us that if disgust and anger move us beyond these limits then we need to abandon disgust and anger all together.

When Jesus is confronted with people considered disgusting of his time, Jesus understands. Perhaps Jesus even experienced a bit of disgust when he encountered a woman whom he would not move toward, but in fact insinuated she was a dog. When the woman responded that even dogs eat from the scraps of the master’s table, Jesus realized that his disgust too him too far – he called a woman a dog! At that point he abandoned his sense of disgust and boundary keeping and healed the woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21-28).

When Jesus experiences anger he is quick to realize the damage anger can cause. For instance, as soon as Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” the very next line reads, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:22-24). Notice the twist here, Jesus does not banish Peter but invites him to get behind, one might say follow, him. In this moment of anger, even Jesus invited the Satan to follow him. Meaning that even when angry, Jesus invites the one he is angry with to stay in the relationship. If you are choosing to remain in relationship with someone then anger has to give way to love.

The United Methodist Church has a conversation on her hands about how to include ministry with LGBTQ persons. Some are disgusted and others are angry at this discussion. Both disgust and anger are helpful – until they are not. We have reached a point where disgust and anger are no longer helpful.

Any plan that is brought forth that does not hold us together in unified relationship reflects not the unity of the body of Christ but the emotional needs to resolve our own disgust and/or anger.

As Jesus said, you will be known by your love for one another. Or perhaps when Paul said that we are one in the Body of Christ. Or perhaps Revelation’s image of the peaceable kingdom where the lion and lamb are together. The Biblical witness is continually calling humanity to set anger and disgust aside for the sake of being in loving relationship. May my beloved UMC confront the disgust and anger in our lives, repent of the temptation of the pseudo-righteousness on full display that is only there to mask addiction we have to disgust and anger. Come Lord Jesus!

The Word of the Lord Was Rare These Days

There is a little verse near the beginning of the book 1 Samuel that goes like this 

"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread." - 1 Samuel 3:1

Often we read "the word of the Lord was rare in those days" and assume it was because the most extravagant visions of God (flood, destruction of towns because of hospitality, pillar of cloud and fire, burning bush, etc.) were over. Perhaps this it is also true that the word of the Lord was rare because people were not able to access it. That is what makes something rare, our ability to access it. Diamonds were rare, now they are mass produced and much easier to come by. Eating oranges in December in the North was rare, but no more. Rare does not mean gone, just difficult to access. 

I offer up the reason the word of the Lord was rare then, and is today, is not because it is not present but because we do not access it. And we do not access it not because it is behind a locked door but because we do not want to access the word of the Lord. 

Throughout the Bible the word of the Lord was prophetic truth that was spoken from within a group to that very group. It is Moses calling the people to follow the law. It is the leaders of the tribes that Amos calls cows. It is Jesus having harsh words for the leaders of the religion he was a part of. 

Angry mob from wikipedia

Angry mob from wikipedia

Critiquing other tribes is easy and primal. Critiquing your own tribe is difficult and divine. 

Today we have "prophets" who are condemning other tribes. The left condemns the right and the right condemns the left. There is a place for critique of the powers and principalities to be sure, however what connects the prophet to the divine is the prophets willingness to critique their own tribe and even their own self. This is what contributes to the beauty of scripture. If you were going to decree a set of texts as holy and authoritative for a religion would you pick texts that decry your people's own failures or would you only select the texts that show your side as winners? 

The word of the lord is rare in these days. It is easier to rally the base with talking heads than to examine our own hypocrisies, deficiencies and sin. 

(This post was inspired by Phil Ochs' song, Love me, I'm a Liberal, introduced to me via this brilliant Intercept episode.)