Chaos and Anger


Sometimes we want to think that churches and other religious centers should always be places of peace and calm. That will never be. Churches, and all organizations, face a common, insurmountable problem. By definition, they are made up of people.

In a society were interdependence is de-emphasized, many people choose to keep their contact with all organizations to a minimum. In a way that makes sense. The fewer people we interact with, the fewer people we can have conflict with.

When Christians contemplate the life of Jesus, they are faced with a different view. We are taught that one person of the Divine trinity chose to leave an environment of perfect love and peace to spend more than 30 years with human beings and all their passions, mistreatment and, in his case, to suffer crucifixion at their hands. He knew what was going to happen and he came anyway.

It has long been the teaching of the church that the interaction of members of the church helps us learn how to love one another. The ancient Christian teacher and writer Tertullian once said “Solus Christianus, nullus Christianus” – A Christian alone is no Christian.

I have heard this put many ways over the years. One preacher told us we were all rocks on the bottom of the river and the way we push against each other is what polishes us to get ready for heaven. However we put it, it is easy to say and follow when everything is going smoothly. It is quite a different thing to remember it and live it when a given church (or parish) is in the middle of chaos.

This question has become totally not theoretical for me and the fellow members of my local church in the last few weeks. A month ago we had two full time priests and, as far as most of us knew, everything was going well. Now both of those priests are gone, maybe permanently, and we have fill-in priests and are dealing with our bishop to get help to keep the parish going.

In addition to all the chaos and confusion, we are seeing people leave while others stay and people are taking sides. Instead of a spirit of love and cooperation, we are in danger of creating an environment of anger and self-righteousness. The question is now whether love or anger will prevail.

I am reminded of an episode called “The Day of the Dove” from the original Star Trek television series. In that episode, the Enterprise crew find themselves trapped on the ship with an equal number of Klingons in an endless series of battles. They realize that when they are killed in a battle, they return to fight again. The solution comes when they realize there is a creature on board who has created the conflict and feeds itself from the hatred it is generating.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was telling this story in a science fiction format in a setting “where no man has gone before.”  But there is nothing new in this concept.

The Christian teaching is very clear that there is one who wants to destroy our souls and poison everything good in us that God put there. Whether you call our adversary the devil, Lucifer or the destroyer of souls or any other name, he exists. He seeks to put us at each other so that we forget we are here to show God’s love.

In times of chaos and anger, we have to decide what we want for our souls and those of our neighbors. There is obviously hurt and anger and shock. We may feel the need to lash out. At a minimum we need to express our hurt and anger. Hopefully our friends involved in the situation will be able to provide ears or shoulders as needed.

But we need to keep in mind that at each moment we are feeding ourselves either the “good food” of love and understanding and peace or the “bad food” of hatred, anger and self-righteousness. No matter how much we feel wronged by others, if we dwell in that hurt or anger we harm ourselves, not them.

The “winners” in this will be those who turn to God the soonest. The more it hurts, the angrier we feel, the more important it becomes to turn quickly. He is waiting to help us. He will help as much as we let Him. He is calling to each of us, no matter what “side” we are on, to turn to Him now. He won’t make us turn. If we insist on being miserable in ourselves and to others, He will honor our choice.

In some ways we want to cry, “Why us?” but in a sense it is a tribute to our spiritual readiness. We are being offered a test at the next school grade level in our spiritual journeys. How soon will we be able to “pass the test” or “win the game” by turning completely to God?

It is my fervent hope that we all choose God sooner rather than later. May our parish become a place where all who come, or return, are welcome and see only the love of God.

Being Accepted


For those who believe in coincidence, I just had a whopper. I was dwelling on the difference between doing and being and my reading brought the point home in a hurry. The book is “Shame & Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve” by Lewis B. Smedes.

The chapter entitled “the Beginning of our Healing” describes the true nature of grace and how it changes the entire nature of the religious quest. Before this chapter, he discusses the ways we accept shame or shame ourselves. He also discusses those who constantly try to do things to make ourselves feel worthy. He talks about Martha, who is busy serving food to Jesus instead of enjoying his presence, and the Prodigal’s brother who is constantly “doing what he is supposed to” with a feeling of duty instead of joy. These people do things in order to be acceptable to themselves or others. They can’t just be relaxed.

In most self-help classes, and some religions, the answer offered is, as Smedes says, “Persuading ourselves that we are just fine the way we are.” This doesn’t work for many people.

He then writes:

[T]he experience of being accepted is the beginning of healing for the feeling of being unacceptable.

Being accepted is the single most compelling need of our lives; no human being can be a friend of herself while at the edges of her consciousness she feels a persistent fear that she may not be accepted by others.

This is the dilemma for those who feel they are not accepted.  They do everything they can to be accepted and yet it never works. In the end, they still feel the same way about themselves. Smedes writes that we are not ready for another answer until “we are bone tired of our struggle to be worthy and acceptable.”

He avoids heavy theological discussions about the nature of God and grace and cuts to the chase by describing four ways we experience the “Grace of God.” The pertinent one, for now, is

We experience grace as acceptance: we are reunited with God and our true selves, accepted, cradled, held, affirmed, and loved. Accepting grace is the answer to shame.

This is the difference. God’s acceptance of us is never earned; it can only be experienced and welcomed. We can’t do anything to earn acceptance, we can only be aware that we are accepted.

Jesus said we had to come to Him like a child. Smedes description of this truth is:

To experience grace is to recover our lost inner child. The heart of our inner child is trust. … Shame cheats us of childhood. Grace gives it back to us.

… Trust is the inner child we rediscover in an experience of grace.

Grace overcomes shame … by accepting us, the whole of us, with no regard to … our virtue or our vices. … Accepted at the ultimate depth of our being. We are given what we have longed for in every nook and nuance of every relationship.

I find no comfort in a general idea the universe somehow accepts me. The universe has no personality. Christianity offers a grace I can understand, at least somewhat. It says the God of all there is loved the world, and me, enough to lower Himself to a human state and suffer for my benefit.

I remember a prayer session many years ago when I asked, “If I were the only person who needed your great act of love, would you have gone through all that for me?” It was clear to me His love was so great the answer was “Yes.”

Another time, after an extended period of prayer, I had the experience of Jesus just standing beside me with His arm over my shoulder. It was the deepest feeling of peace I have ever experienced. He was asking nothing of me. There was nothing to do but stand there and be at peace with nothing to worry about.

Yet, I strive to impress Him or earn something. He doesn’t want that, but I forget to be trusting and try to do something for Him.  Today, I was trying to figure out the difference being doing and being. At that moment, by coincidence or “God-incidence” I happened to be reading the exact chapter in the exact book which perfectly describes the difference.

It was God’s polite way of saying that no matter how much I try to do for Him, His love for and acceptance of me will always be more than I can earn or ask. The trick is simple, lighten up and look for and be willing to receive his gifts.