Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dealing with Anger

Excommunication and Shunning

To understand Jesus' words in Matthew 1815-17 you have to understand the world that he lived in. The first century Mediterranean culture was centered on community and driven by an honor/shame code of ethics. When there was division in the community it threatened the well-being of the entire community and brought shame upon it. That’s why eventually Jesus advises getting the community involved in personal issues of sin. 

The other cultural trait that comes into play with these verses is that of the honor/shame basis for community. People have written dissertations on this subject. All of first century Greco-Roman life was built on the idea of honor and shame. In a nutshell it goes like this – when you did things that the community considered good, you brought honor to the community and you were rewarded by the community. When you did something that the community considered bad or offensive, you brought shame upon the community and you were punished by the community.  The punishment – public chastisement, public announcement of your betrayal against the community, exclusion from certain community events or leadership positions – in worse case scenarios it could include public whipping or beating (see Paul), shunning, excommunication – and in the most extreme cases, capital punishment by stoning. All of these "shaming" punishments were enacted as an attempt to maintain control and order in the community. The goal was conformity to community moral/ethical standards, and the restoration of those who erred. 

This idea of honor/shame was powerful because it permeated everything. Those who brought honor to the community were treated almost like gods. Those who brought shame were rejected.  Most people living in the honor/shame culture would rather commit suicide than shame the community. It was that powerful.

The other thing you have to understand is that in the first century world a person depended on their community for survival. You could not survive long outside the community. Literally, physically – you could not survive. There were no grocery stores. No restaurants. No homeless shelters. Anthropologists estimate an average 2 year life expectancy for those who were, for whatever reasons, abandoned by their community. So excommunication from the community was a death sentence. It was reserved for only the worse offenses. 

So, in the first century, if a person was excommunicated or shunned, they had no where else to go. They were forced to look at what they had done, and find a way to make it right. The alternative was unthinkable.  Therefore, excommunication and shunning was a powerful wake-up call, and had the ultimate end of restoration and reconciliation. 

That is no longer true today. If a person is shunned by one church community, they can simply walk across the street to another church community and be welcomed and helped. If their family disowns them, they can simply live apart from the family and can easily survive without family. 

In fact, the disciplinary method of "shunning" or "excommunication" actually has the opposite effect today -- not only does it NOT bring reconciliation to the person, it causes the community to outsource its problems to some other community.  There is no real "working at it" in order to bring reconciliation. It's too simple to just walk away and go to some other community.  

A better and more biblical approach is to keep the person in the community and allow the community to continue to speak into their lives.  If the person continues to sin, their sins will catch up to them (that's the tough love part) and the community will be their to help them pick up the pieces. 

For more on the Honor/Shame culture of the first century see:

Tools for Dealing with Anger
(for more on these click HERE)

Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings.

Cognitive Restructuring
Simply put, this means changing the way you think. Angry people tend to curse, swear, or speak in highly colorful terms that reflect their inner thoughts. When you're angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, "oh, it's awful, it's terrible, everything's ruined," tell yourself, "it's frustrating, and it's understandable that I'm upset about it, but it's not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyhow."

Be careful of words like "never" or "always" when talking about yourself or someone else. "This !&*%@ machine never works," or "you're always forgetting things" are not just inaccurate, they also serve to make you feel that your anger is justified and that there's no way to solve the problem. They also alienate and humiliate people who might otherwise be willing to work with you on a solution.

Problem Solving
Sometimes, our anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in our lives. Not all anger is misplaced, and often it's a healthy, natural response to these difficulties. There is also a cultural belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to our frustration to find out that this isn't always the case. The best attitude to bring to such a situation, then, is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle and face the problem.

Better Communication
Angry people tend to jump to—and act on—conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be very inaccurate. The first thing to do if you're in a heated discussion is slow down and think through your responses. Don't say the first thing that comes into your head, but slow down and think carefully about what you want to say. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering.

It's natural to get defensive when you're criticized, but don't fight back. Instead, listen to what's underlying the words: the message that this person might feel neglected and unloved. It may take a lot of patient questioning on your part, and it may require some breathing space, but don't let your anger—or a partner's—let a discussion spin out of control. Keeping your cool can keep the situation from becoming a disastrous one.

Using Humor
"Silly humor" can help defuse rage in a number of ways. For one thing, it can help you get a more balanced perspective. This will take a lot of the edge off your fury; and humor can always be relied on to help unknot a tense situation.

The underlying message of highly angry people, Dr. Deffenbacher says, is "things oughta go my way!" Angry people tend to feel that they are morally right, that any blocking or changing of their plans is an unbearable indignity and that they should NOT have to suffer this way. Maybe other people do, but not them!

There are two cautions in using humor. First, don't try to just "laugh off" your problems; rather, use humor to help yourself face them more constructively. Second, don't give in to harsh, sarcastic humor; that's just another form of unhealthy anger expression.

What these techniques have in common is a refusal to take yourself too seriously. Anger is a serious emotion, but it's often accompanied by ideas that, if examined, can make you laugh.

Changing Your Environment
Sometimes it's our immediate surroundings that give us cause for irritation and fury. Problems and responsibilities can weigh on you and make you feel angry at the "trap" you seem to have fallen into and all the people and things that form that trap.

Give yourself a break. Make sure you have some "personal time" scheduled for times of the day that you know are particularly stressful. One example is the working mother who has a standing rule that when she comes home from work, for the first 15 minutes "nobody talks to Mom unless the house is on fire." After this brief quiet time, she feels better prepared to handle demands from her kids without blowing up at them.

More Anger Management Tips
(for more on these click HERE)

1. Think before you speak
In the heat of the moment, it's easy to say something you'll later regret. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts before saying anything — and allow others involved in the situation to do the same.

2. Once you're calm, express your anger
As soon as you're thinking clearly, express your frustration in an assertive but nonconfrontational way. State your concerns and needs clearly and directly, without hurting others or trying to control them.

3. Get some exercise
Physical activity can help reduce stress that can cause you to become angry. If you feel your anger escalating, go for a brisk walk or run, or spend some time doing other enjoyable physical activities.

4. Take a timeout
Timeouts aren't just for kids. Give yourself short breaks during times of the day that tend to be stressful. A few moments of quiet time might help you feel better prepared to handle what's ahead without getting irritated or angry.

5. Identify possible solutions
Instead of focusing on what made you mad, work on resolving the issue at hand. Does your child's messy room drive you crazy? Close the door. Is your partner late for dinner every night? Schedule meals later in the evening — or agree to eat on your own a few times a week. Remind yourself that anger won't fix anything and might only make it worse.

6. Stick with 'I' statements
To avoid criticizing or placing blame — which might only increase tension — use "I" statements to describe the problem. Be respectful and specific. For example, say, "I'm upset that you left the table without offering to help with the dishes," instead of, "You never do any housework."

7. Don't hold a grudge
Forgiveness is a powerful tool. If you allow anger and other negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice. But if you can forgive someone who angered you, you might both learn from the situation. It's unrealistic to expect everyone to behave exactly as you want at all times.

8. Use humor to release tension
Lightening up can help diffuse tension. Use humor to help you face what's making you angry and, possibly, any unrealistic expectations you have for how things should go. Avoid sarcasm, though — it can hurt feelings and make things worse.

9. Practice relaxation skills
When your temper flares, put relaxation skills to work. Practice deep-breathing exercises, imagine a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase, such as, "Take it easy." You might also listen to music, write in a journal or do a few yoga poses — whatever it takes to encourage relaxation.

10. Know when to seek help
Learning to control anger is a challenge for everyone at times. Consider seeking help for anger issues if your anger seems out of control, causes you to do things you regret or hurts those around you.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Where is God?

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 
                                                                                                            - Psalm 139:7-12 

Our hearts break for those who have lost so much this week in Moore, Oklahoma and the surrounding area. The images that flash across our television and computer screens make us wish we could be there. We hold our collective breath hoping against hope that there will be no more fatalities, knowing that there are likely more who have perished. Jesus once said, “Blessed are those who mourn …” (Matt.5:4). It hurts to watch people hurting. Our hearts break over the things that break the heart of God. 

Tragedies of this magnitude give way to a lot of questions concerning the existence of God. Even if you assume that God exists, there are still questions about his role in the tragedy. From a Christian perspective there tends to be two different approaches: (1) God causes everything to happen and therefore, caused the tornados to rip through Moore, Oklahoma. Typically, this is followed by some variation of “God has his reasons and we are not to question him.” (2) God did not cause the tornados in Moore, Oklahoma, but he allowed them to happen. This is usually justified by drawing a fine line between God’s specific will and his permissive will. God in his sovereignty allowed it to happen, even though he didn’t necessarily want it to happen. This seems only to remove God one step away from culpability. 

If God did this, how can we call him loving? If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, how could he let this happen? These are natural, and frankly, fair questions. There are no easy answers. The problem of evil and suffering in our world has baffled theologians for centuries. The prophets asked the same questions, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Where is God?” (see Jeremiah 5:19a; 12:1; Habakkuk 1:2-4). An entire branch of theology, called “theodicy” has developed to deal exclusively with these questions about evil and suffering. For a succinct overview of how people have tried to answer these questions throughout history I would recommend the excellent article by Jim Denison found here

I do not believe that God caused the tornados to happen. We know how tornados happen. Any freshman in high school can explain the meteorological conditions that cause tornados to form. The truth is our planet is a tiny cocoon in our universe. We live in a universe with violent and powerful physical forces. Move away from our plant in either direction and it gets worse. Move away from our galaxy (our cosmological cul-de-sac) and I’m told things get radically violent. Life as we know it is impossible in most regions of our galaxy – the physical conditions are simply too violent. Sometimes, even in our little cocoon the violent forces of the universe break in and remind us just how good we have it … most of the time. 

That may not help much when it’s your child who has died in the tornado. Frankly, nothing is going to help much when it’s your child who has died in the tornado. Tears and prayers and hugs and good friends are the only approximation to a magical salve for that kind of suffocating emotional pain. 

But that leads us back to the bigger question: Where is God? 

Elie Wiesel in his book, Night, details his Holocaust experience at Auschwitz. He writes about how, at 14, he was taken to the death camps. They traveled by train for 3 days, eighty people in each cattle truck. Arriving at Auschwitz, men and women were segregated. Elie never saw his mother or sister again. 

He wrote: “Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget those flames which murdered my God and my soul, and turned my dreams to dust.” 

One day the guards made them watch as they hanged a boy. Wiesel recalled just before the hanging someone behind him whispered: "Where is God? Where is he?" It took the boy half an hour to die. Behind Elie the same voice asked: "Where is God now?" and a voice inside Elie said: "Where is he? Here - hanging on this gallows." 

Wiesel was saying that God was dead, powerless to help. The Holocaust made him rebel against God for allowing people to be starved, tortured, butchered, gassed, burned. 

But later in life something changed the Professor of Humanities at Boston University. Wiesel, in a speech confessed: "Rooted in our tradition, some of us (at Auschwitz) felt that to be abandoned by humanity was not the ultimate. We felt that to be abandoned by God was worse than to be punished by Him. Better an unjust God than an indifferent one.. man can live far from God, but not outside God. God is wherever we are." Elie then asked: "Even in suffering?" and quietly added "even in suffering." 

So where was God at 3pm on May 20th? You know where he was. You have read the news reports and watched the interviews. God was in Moore, Oklahoma. He was in Plaza Towers Elementary School … in Rhonda Crosswhite, the sixth-grade teacher who covered her students with her own body to shield them from the showering debris (read here). He was in Becky Jo Evans, the first grade teacher who did the same (read here). He was in all the teachers who acted quickly to shield and save young lives. He was in all the neighbors who immediately began to rescue hundreds from the rubble. He was in each child who died. And he will be in every one of us who reaches out to help. 

The psalmist says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” He concludes that even the darkest night cannot conceal him from God’s presence, because even the darkest night is light to God. I don’t know much, but I know that to be true ... especially in Moore, Oklahoma. 

If you want to know about ways you can help the Oklahoma victims through FBCR please see Pastor Brett’s blog here or you can visit our website here where we have set up a page just for this ministry effort.