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!

While America Fell Apart, the UMC Came Together

Here are the highlights from a CNN article talking about historic events happening in one year:

North Korea made overtures to war. Americans disputed the legitimacy of a war. Civil Rights abuses included key leaders being killed. The globe was pulled together by new technologies. Athletes protested during national anthems. Human sexuality was on the forefront of cultural changes. Humans expanded their capacity for space exploration.

Of course that article is entitled, "Eight Unforgettable Ways 1968 Made History".

It has been said there are many parallels to America today and America in 1968. Part of the overall feel between then and now is the feeling that everything is all falling apart. The wheels have come off. There is too much upheaval and unrest and we are not sure how long the lid can hold down the inevitable doom. 

I was not alive in 1968, so I trust the media, institutions, and individuals who tell the stories of that time. I trust that it was a "wheels off" time. I trust that this year may very well feel like 1968. I also trust that everyone I have spoken with says that while today fells like 1968, 1968 was much worse. Which is why I want to point out how, in 1968, the United Methodist Church did something so radical it was a statement for the ages. 

The same year that America was falling apart, the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church became the United Methodist Church.

While America was fractured and ripped apart by a number of things (a polarizing president, U.S. stance with U.S.S.R. (Russia), liberals and conservatives, "law and order" and civil rights, etc...) the church stood in the middle of all that division and Unified. 

Today we are in a time that feels just as divisive and polarizing in the USA. I wonder if my beloved UMC will look to her past and see how she bore witness to Christ in coming together while the "world fell apart." The courage of the 1968 Saints that created the UMC, those who decided to stand together in the face of pressure to divide, is the same courage I hope for in the 2017 Saints of the Church. 

History (AKA - our children) has its eye on us.

Do you know when has the night ended and the day begun?

Hawaii Sunset 2012.jpg

From the wisdom of the Jewish Tradition I offer up this story that I heard over the weekend:

A Rabbi once asked his students, “how do we know when the night has ended and the day has begun?” Immediately the students thought that they grasped the importance of the question. There are, after all, prayers that can be recited and rituals that can be performed only at night. And there are prayers and rituals that belong only to the day. It is therefore important to know when the night has ended and day has begun. So the brightest of the students offered an answer: “When I look out at the fields and I can distinguish between my field and the field of my neighbor’s, that’s when the night has ended and day has begun.” A second student offered her answer: “When I look from the fields and I see a house and I can tell that it’s my house and not the house of my neighbor, that’s when the night has ended and the day has begun.” A third student offered an answer: “When I can distinguish the animals in the yard – and I can tell a cow from a horse – that’s when the night has ended.” Each of these answers brought a sadder, more severe frown to the Rabbi’s face – until finally he shouted: “No! You don’t understand! You only know how to divide! You divide your house from the house of your neighbor, your field from your neighbor’s, one animal from another, one color from all the others. Is that all that we can do – divide, separate, split the world into pieces? Isn’t the world broken enough - split into enough fragments? No, my dear students, it’s not that way at all! Our Torah and Jewish values want more from us. The shocked students looked into the sad face of their Rabbi. One of them ventured, “Then Rabbi, tell us: How do we know that night has ended and day has begun?” The Rabbi stared back into the faces of his students and with a gentle voice responded: “When you look into the face of the person who is beside you and you can see that that person is your brother or your sister, when you can recognize that person as a friend, then, finally, the night has ended and the day has begun.” 

My our Lent be a season of unity and not further division.