WAS JESUS A WIMP?

I used to lie awake at night imagining myself following the bishop of Newcastle around his diocesan church appearances and shouting "Hypocrite!" at strategic points during the services. It was probably only the thought of having to sit through the same, whispered sermon (with compulsory joke) over and over and over again that stopped me. Even though said bishop has followed me into the diocese of Durham thanks to the unrecorded "lines of communication" between our fathers in Christ (illegal under secular law), I am not so obsessed with revenge now. Most of my friends will say this is a good thing as anger destroys the angry. I understand this, but I still have a problem. I can't let go of the fact that it seems obvious to me that if Christians constantly turn the other cheek and forget about the hurt done to them then the abusers and bullies will just keep on abusing and bullying.

A couple of days ago I received a Facebook message from Fr. Jim Pappas. It was wise and good and Jim has agreed to let me post it in full at OCICBW.....

Jim wants to emphasise that he is "not saying to let people get away with things." He is "talking about how we respond and from where. We must respond to those who commit injustice, and we must do all that we can to protect others from injustice."

After you have read Jim's words I would appreciate your comments. This conundrum has been bugging me for a long time now and I would like to put it to bed. But it's not just my problem. It effects all those who try to follow Christ's example and avoid doing violence against those who happily do violence to others, and yet desire with all their hearts to stop injustice and oppression.

My spiritual director likes to say that anger is a costly emotion. Sure, it might give us energy for a time to get something accomplished, but while it does it is also burning us up. Better to listen to our anger and then let it go. The anger has many important things to tell us, especially about needs that are not being met and about injustices that are being perpetrated. But after we hear its story, what then? Anger too easily moves to violence, or if we are too vigilant for that, it moves to resentment. It tears at us and eats us. And while we think that we are crusading for righteousness, we too often become the very thing that made us angry in the first place. But when we have really listened to our anger and responded to it with compassion, somehow it transforms in us. Then we can act for change from a place of peace. This work of transformation is not a fast thing - it can even take a lifetime. But in little fits and starts we can find ourselves acting not from anger, but from compassion.

The first time I saw a bishop who had wronged me with compassion instead of anger, it brought me to my knees in tears. What he had done to me had not gone away, and my desire to see that he didn't do it to others hadn't gone away. But I no longer wanted revenge or even just payback. I wanted his transformation. I was looking at him with love, and the anger melted away into deep sorrow. In these tiny ways, I learn to walk the via crucis, to become, as St. Paul says it, crucified to the world.

At its root, living in anger is about power. Under the anger is our experience of being powerless. We are the victim of some injustice, or we witness some injustice, and we are powerless to stop it. We do not like being powerless. Anger promises us that we can seize power back. But the way of the Cross is the way of kenosis, of self-emptying. The paradox of our way is that to gain power, you must let it go. If we can let go of our anger and allow ourselves to be powerful, then we can begin to heal. We can allow ourselves the deep sorrow and fear and even despair that comes from powerlessness (Psalm 22?). And then as we shower compassion on those pains that we feel, we can begin to heal and find ourselves in a place to accept compassion from others. It probably won't come from the people we'd like to see offering it. Idiot bishops don't often turn around and show compassion to those they have stepped on like bugs. But others around us can and will show compassion if we let them.

This compassion is healing - not because it undoes the wrongs we have experienced, but because it sits with us in the place of pain. True compassion doesn't try to make everything better; it doesn't attempt to exercise power for us. True compassion becomes powerless with us, empties itself and suffers alongside of us. And when we are ready, true compassion is transformed alongside us. From the emptying of power, new power is resurrected. We go out to confront injustice with compassion for ourselves and for the one committing injustice.

This is not an easy lesson. I go from compassion one moment back to anger too easily. And sometimes I stay angry for days or weeks and resist the work that I know I must do. But resurrection is only found on the other side of a tomb. And no matter how much I try to force it to stand between me and the Cross, I know that I must bear that Cross if I am to embrace the Risen One.
(Fr. Jim Pappas)

Comments

WAS JESUS A WIMP? — 42 Comments

  1. The idiots who run after positions of power in the church and use it to mess other people about are pretty pathetic individuals when you catch them with the mask off. Compassion is what’s needed when you can manage it – I get extremely angry myself – but we still need to do what we can to stop them hurting others. I’ve long felt that a large part of the problem with the church is that it’s become a dysfunctional community which is too often dominated by bullying cliques which drive others away. I don’t know what the answer is for churches with such in inbuilt hierarchical structure; I just thank God I’m a Methodist, with something we can democratise far more easily!

  2. RE: “The first time I saw a bishop who had wronged me with compassion instead of anger, it brought me to my knees in tears. What he had done to me had not gone away, and my desire to see that he didn’t do it to others hadn’t gone away. But I no longer wanted revenge or even just payback. I wanted his transformation. I was looking at him with love, and the anger melted away into deep sorrow. In these tiny ways, I learn to walk the via crucis, to become, as St. Paul says it, crucified to the world.”

    This. So very this.

    I for one can’t think of anything else that CAN be said.

    Tracie

  3. This was a great read for me, MP, as I wrestle with how to move out of anger to that place of compassion. And it is true that anger provides a good short burst of energy, but it will burn up the angry faster than it will the object of the anger. But it takes some intentional work to first arrive at an internal place that says whatever the “thing” is that makes me angry is not some large, looming black bear, but an annoying little gnat. Gnats annoy, but they don’t feel like a threat to my existence the way a large black bear does. And they are much easier to address than something that could mangle you. You ask if Jesus was a wimp for the “turn the other cheek” message. No, he wasn’t. As I understand it, he actually was encouraging people to shame the Romans and humiliate them publicly because the soldiers’ ethos would not allow them to strike a person a second time. I could be wrong on that one, but it sounds good to me. My prayers are with you as you wrestle with your anger and the annoying gnat of a purple-shirted bully. Don’t let your rage pin you to the mat.

  4. Thanks, SCG.
    In the last five years I have conquered many mountains because of the advice and support I have received from my internet friends. Forgive me for using you all in this respect. Although I am pretty certain others have benefited from our discussions as well. I love the Internet.

  5. May I add one other observation?

    I find myself rereading this, that Jonathan stated: “I can’t let go of the fact that it seems obvious to me that if Christians constantly turn the other cheek and forget about the hurt done to them then the abusers and bullies will just keep on abusing and bullying.”

    OK yes, I get that. It looks that way to me too and in a lot of ways, that’s one of the reasons why Joe remains Asatru and not Christian. In his path, the ethic is stated like this: “A gift demands a gift,” and while that doesn’t specify that if someone slaps you on the right cheek, you turn your left to him/her, it also doesn’t rule out violent retaliation if one feels that violence is what is called for.

    But on the other hand…….

    I remember studying martial arts when I was in high school. I was taking ju-jitsu, not aikido or judo. But for a while there, I was tempted to switch over to aikido or judo, and this is because those two disciplines are a bit different than tae kwon do or ju-jitsu or kenpo or whatever. Aikido and judo are not the kind of martial art wherein you are trying to beat your opponent up. Instead, you learn how to simply tire your opponent out – you turn his/her weight and energy and momentum against him/her, and let him/her tire him/herself out. I think this is what the “turn the other cheek/go the extra mile/give him your cloak as well as your coat” comes in. This is not just allowing bullies to get away with bullying. It is social and spiritual judo or aikido. When bullies/aggressors find that the “victim” is basically just this ghostly non-resistant entity, little more than a light breeze on a spring day, they get bored and move on. What they want is something that WILL resist them. They want that challenge. But if they keep finding no resistance, just air, they start wondering “wth is going on here?” This is where the opportunity for THEM to transform comes in. They just might start asking “how can I be more like that?”

    Hope that made a little sense.

  6. Jim’s essay is challenging and I think exactly right. It does not deny the anger but allows one to move into a new space with it. I like Walter Wink’s ideas about turning the other cheek – not wimpiness at all.

  7. Thanks, MP for posting this and to the rest of you for your comments. You are helping others as you are receiving help, Jonathan.

    As a person who is often filled with anger, I need to print Fr. Pappas’ essay out and read it everyday for a good long while. Thanks again.

  8. Fr Jim is spot on. I speak as one who has walked through the fire, so to speak, more than once, but a couple of times to the point of near obsession, so I guess you might say that mine is a testimonial to the wisdom of Fr Jim’s words. No doubt, I have more fiery paths awaiting me, and I will find the walks difficult, but I know God will be with me in my walk through the fire, if only I pay attention.

    One step at a time, one enemy at a time, and we eventually have the victory through the cross. And the victory most often doesn’t come quickly.

    Another bit of wise spiritual direction which I found to be quite helpful was to put into practice Jesus’ words, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….’

    Don’t laugh. At first, I simply could not do it. Then, I decided to try, and, in the beginning, I prayed through clenched teeth in a growl, but I continued to pray, and it became easier. And then gradually, my heart melted, and I saw the person as she/he was, and compassion came, which I consider to be the equivalent of love.

    Look, I don’t understand this process at all. My only explanation is that the transformation in me was a miracle of God’s grace. Whether the other person changed or not was not up to me. What I did was pray for them, and I was changed, thanks be to God.

    Because of my inner transformation, which was a change of heart, a heart of stone replaced by a heart of flesh, on more than one occasion, I find attempts at proofs of God’s existence ludicrous and uninteresting, because I know what happened to me. No one can take that away from me.

  9. What do you mean “if?”
    Remember I’ve met you in person. I’ve been with you when you’ve knocked back a couple of bottles of wine and half a dozen whiskey chasers. I know how baaad you can be.

  10. I love Tracie’s explanation of how you can still deal with the bullies and stand up to injustice but without the anger and hatred that doesn’t hurt them but only yourself.

    I think we’d be better at dealing with your anger if we truly saw it as helping ourselves not as being soft on bullies.

  11. Grandmere Mimi’s reflection reminds me of another spiritual director and his instructions to me when I was dealing with my anger at yet another person who had deeply hurt me. After listening to my pain, he instructed me to go home and pray for her, that she be happy and healthy and find love and peace in her life. I told him that I didn’t want these things for her. He said, “I know, and that is why you must pray for them. Eventually, if you pray for her to receive these good things, you will come to want them for her. And then you will be able to forgive her and you will be free from her.” Dutifully I followed his instructions, like Mimi through clenched teeth. And he was right. I don’t know how it happened, but one day I found that I had forgiven and that I was free.

  12. “if Christians constantly turn the other cheek and forget about the hurt done to them”

    But that’s NOT what Jesus commanded!

    [See re Walter Wink, as Ann mentioned]

    Or, as Gandhi said “If, in responding to Evil, I were given the absolute choice of inaction OR violence, I’d choose violence every time!”

    RESIST—but w/o resentment. That’s our model.

  13. Living with anger, living with resentment, living with a desire for revenge, all are poisonous to our very selves. So, as I see it, we act in our own self-interest when we take steps to rid ourselves of the poison.

    And while we think that we are crusading for righteousness, we too often become the very thing that made us angry in the first place.

    A great big yes to those words. Been there, done that, too, and I will probably do it again. With the help of God’s grace, to respond with compassion to ourselves and to the other sets the stage.

    Then we can act for change from a place of peace. This work of transformation is not a fast thing – it can even take a lifetime. But in little fits and starts we can find ourselves acting not from anger, but from compassion.

  14. I’m *thoroughly* pissed off at someone right now. Fr. Jim’s essay is really challenging me.

    :sigh:

    Tracie

  15. If it’s any consolation, Tracie, it’s challenging me too, and I wrote it. On this day, maybe the best word is that of St. Francis, whose feast we celebrate: Peace and All Good.

    j +

  16. This is such a helpful discussion all around. When I think of anger now, I remember a few years ago when I took my two grandsons to a small beach with no lifeguard present. I didn’t swim far out, but suddenly I was seized by a narrow band of current headed for deep and rough water under a nearby bridge. /what a strange and never to be forgotten feeling, like every inch of your body is clamped by invisible pressure and very suddenly you have no power to move where or how u want to go. And being powerless generates fear(s) instantly. Fortunately, one of the boys saw this and reached out a hand and I grabbed it and he pulled me to safety.
    Anger is like that, it makes u powerless and leads u to places and actions to which u really don’t want to go. In that dark place, fears sprout, multiply and grow. Buddhists say that Loving kindness and compassion are the antidote, but it’s hard to remember that and practice it in the moment(s) of rage. Hard but necessary again and again. When u r indulging in rage, maybe it helps to at least know that there is another way…….and then u can begin to search for it.
    nij

  17. Father Jim’s words are what I try to aspire to. I know I often don’t reach them, but I think they are a profound reflection on what following Jesus is all about. Thanks for posting them.

  18. But if we avoid anger for our own wellbeing are we being selfish?

    I think not because we free ourselves to, as Fr Jim says, ‘go out to confront injustice with compassion for ourselves and for the one committing injustice.’ We are without the damaging encumbrance of anger, resentment, and vengefulness and are better able to work to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

    Sometimes the best I can muster is doing the right thing with less than the purest of motives.

  19. Well, rats, I left a comment this morning but I guess it didn’t post.

    I just wanted to say the best advice on handling anger I ever saw came from Thich Nhat Hanh in Peace is Every Step. First, he talks about transforming feelings, and that it’s not helpful to bury the feelings, but instead to inquire gently, “Hello, Anger. How are you today?” It’s amazing how much that takes the sting away from anger when I (strangely enough) treat it kindly.

    On this feast of St. Francis, it reminds me of the story of the wolf of Gubbio, which has always been an important story for me. Taking care of the wolf doesn’t mean it takes over; it means you can make peace with it.

    Laura

  20. Besides, if I truly believe that living in anger, resentfulness, and vengefulness is poison to my soul, and I do, why would it be selfish to want to be rid of them? Would it be selfish to want poison out of my body?

  21. If being angry might achieve some good for someone else even though the anger is destroying you, is it selfish to rid yourself of the anger IS WHAT I MEANT.

  22. Speaking for myself, I don’t think I’m most effective when I’m consumed with anger on an ongoing basis. I’m not talking about righteous anger in a specific situation, which can be a good thing. I’m talking about harboring anger, feeding it, nourishing it as a way of life.

    Are you angry at me now? You’re WRITING IN CAPS.

  23. “If being angry might achieve some good for someone else even though the anger is destroying you, is it selfish to rid yourself of the anger”

    Ooh, I’m going to answer that w/ another song I should nominate for the “Holy Rolling” (as it were):

    “Do what’s good for you
    Or you’re not good for anybody,
    Jaaaames.”

    James by Billy Joel.

    Oh yeah: wv, “trust”. If that ain’t God talkin’ to ya, MP, then I don’t know what is! 😉

  24. MP, you would lose the destructive anger that eats up your own insides but you would not lose your passion to righten a wrong.

    I suppose the question is whether we’re angry for a wrong that happens to others or whether we’re angry about a wrong that happened to ourselves. Being purely focused on ourselves and motivated by our self pity is not wrong but it’s not healing either and it doesn’t really accomplish much.

    Being able to let that go is the opposite of being selfish, it’s the beginning of beginning to see beyond ourselves and our anger again and of being able to reach out and really begin to change things.

  25. Jonathan you write “if Christians constantly turn the other cheek and forget about the hurt done to them then the abusers and bullies will just keep on abusing and bullying.”

    This reminds me of my own similar obsession with a person who hurt me – eventually I came to see the sense of being responsible for stopping him doing it to others as a temptation, not a job given to me by the Lord. Something I should leave to God, my job was to let myself be healed so that I could live more fully.
    Sue B

  26. The more I think about this the more I feel that we are born angry – angry at our essential helplessness, enraged by the unknowability of existence. Our chief quarrel is with reality itself, but because we feel so impotent our hostility is displaced onto other people where it is cunningly disguised as altruism.
    Not an answer – but perhaps the beginning of an analysis.

  27. I won’t have any of the new age, channelling mumbo jumbo around here, Ann. And you shouldn’t dabble in it either. You’ll go straight to hell if you do.

  28. New Agers are butterflies that bite and/or sting. Best to avoid them.

    I think what’s particularly difficult about dealing with anger in situations like mine & Jonathan’s is the fact that the person who wronged us, will never grant us any kind of closure, and certainly will not apologize for doing this. I know it eats at me almost every day. I want the guilty party to grovel. I want the guilty party to really hurt as badly as I was hurt. And even if this person did apologize to me right now, I’m not sure I’m in a place where I can accept it.

    Trying to give *oneself* closure is a huge challenge, to say the least. It effing SUCKS.

    Tracie

  29. Wonderful essay.
    Anger isn’t one of the sins I have to deal with frequently — I have plenty of others — but I do spend plenty of time having to deal with bullies. Over time, my not responding to them with anger has seemed to somewhat disarm them and tone them down (except for one who has left for another parish).

    I also tend to call to mind the second part of Paul’s instruction to love our enemies (Rom 12:20, citing Prov 25:21-22).

  30. Anger is not a sin.

    Wrath is a sin . . . constant, unremitting, self-generating rage at everything and everyone.

    Anger does need channelling, and denying anger is to abdicate one’s responsibility to declare the Truth. We keep wondering why we have such a weak leadership amongst liberals, then this sort of thing pops up.

    The bishop can’t be touched, then forget him, move on. He’s nothing. If you can do something about him, or – better – the system that spawned him, then it is irresponsible not to. The difference between wrath and anger.

    It’s funny that channelling anger should be punningly referred to as New Age, when all this “no anger, it’s all good” stuff is nothing more than regurgitated and churched-up self-help guru speeches – New Age crystal-gazing.

    That’s not forgiveness – it’s laziness.

  31. It’s funny that channelling anger should be punningly referred to as New Age, when all this “no anger, it’s all good” stuff is nothing more than regurgitated and churched-up self-help guru speeches – New Age crystal-gazing.

    That’s not forgiveness – it’s laziness.

    I’ll drink to THAT. Hell yeah.