One of the questions that I get quite often is this: Are you angry?
The answer to that question changes. Today the answer is no, I’m not angry. Two days ago the answer would have been eh, maybe a little. And I have days–sometimes just moments–when the answer is yes.
Anger is such a weird word, mostly because it’s sort of limiting. Unlike some, my anger doesn’t reveal itself through crazy amounts of shouting or hitting or any sort of violence. Duh, I’m a Christian! While I’ve known Christians who are free enough to become angry, my Christianity has caused me to rarely feel comfortable showing anger blatantly or truthfully. My anger is emotionally charged. I sometimes yell when I’m angry. I cry on days when I’m angry. My anger sits in my gut. Some days I get diarrhea when I’m angry. Other days I get migraines. Occasionally I take my anger out on my wife, usually passive aggressively.
But again, most days I’m really not angry. I’m not!!! At least, not anymore.
I think most people assume that I’m angry at my past or angry at all of the Independent Fundamental Baptists who taught me about God and Jesus. And while I’m sure that’s true once in a while, the bigger reason is because I was an Independent Fundamental Baptist. For fifteen years. And that’s how I learned how to be angry.
As most of you know, I wrote about my IFB experiences in Churched, but I only shared a small part of the story. Most of the stories I shared were the ones I considered digestible to the common church goer. The fluffier parts of the story.
I steered clear of the darker shades of my church past. I didn’t write about the suicides. I didn’t write about the molestations that occurred. I didn’t write about the lies that the leadership of my church told. I didn’t write about the numerous times I watched my mother and father in meetings arguing and fighting with other Christians over “truth” or “how somebody was being treated” or “abused”. I didn’t write about the racism. I didn’t write about our school’s high pregnancy rate. I didn’t write about the bullying that occurred in our Christian school (from students and teachers). I didn’t write about the horrific corruption we encountered at the Christian colleges my older sisters attended. I didn’t write about the one Christian teacher I had in the fifth grade who, on nearly every single morning, would call students up to his desk and loudly ridicule us at the top of his lungs and verbally abuse us until we cried (all in front of the class).
My friend Willie (name changed) got it the worst. We all experienced it. But Willie got yelled at and belittled nearly every day.
Oh, I told the truth in Churched. Just not all of it.
And I also didn’t write about how angry most of us were. Sure, we had happy days. But our joy was shallow. Anger was just a part of being a fundamental Baptist. We were fighters! We were angry about politics. We were angry about sin. We were angry at the town for not letting us have permits. We were angry about the “idiots” who somehow got voted in as deacons. Most of us were just angry people.
The thing is, most of us didn’t know we were angry. None of us would have called ourselves “angry”.
When my family left that church, we left angry. And we left with seven angry families. And four weeks later, we started another church! I was away at college when this happened.
One Christmas holiday, while I was home on vacation, the church that my family helped start was finally preparing to hire a new pastor. On the Sunday after Christmas, a pastor from Kentucky came and applied for the position. After the service, while a bunch of us ate lunch together, one of the church members asked Pastor Sonny (name changed) what he thought about black people coming to our church.
I will remember his words for as long as I live: “Well, I don’t mind blacks coming to our church and getting saved; but then I’d encourage them to find a new church to attend, you know, a black church.”
Four hours later, during the Sunday night service, Sonny became the pastor.
And Sonny was angry.
Meanwhile, as my family discovered Sonny’s neo-dispensationalism, I was away at college evolving into a Calvinist–an angry one who loved beer, U2, and sovereignty.
Three years later my family was voted out of Sonny’s church. (That’s just a nice way of saying we were kicked out).
For the next four years, my family was lost in many ways. My father was angry and stopped going to church altogether. My mother was angry and bouncing around from church to church to church, trying desperately to fit in. And I was an angry former fundamental Baptist who was trying to become un-angry through Calvinism.
(I explain a lot more of this story in my next book.)
But I tell you all of that for this reason: I was raised on anger. Anger was holy in a way. It was righteous and warranted and just a part of our culture. As long as we stayed in our culture, nobody got hurt and nobody ever realized how angry we were. But whenever we stepped outside of our culture, that’s when our anger revealed its ugly face.
At 26, when I moved to Northern Virginia, I left fundamentalism (physically anyway). And also began walking away from Calvinism. But I was still angry. Anger was just one of the tools I’d learned to use to cope, to live, to express myself. But in the real world, anger didn’t work. Instead, anger was something I had to overcome.
I ended up in therapy. Ever since, I’ve been taking steps (some big and some small) away being angry and learning (and relearning) how to exist without anger.
It a took a lot of therapy before I was able to realize that I wasn’t angry AT my past; I was angry because of it. And it’s hard to let go of anger. But I think that’s especially true when anger is rooted in your faith–you know, the core of who you are (or want to be) and the values you believe in and hold most dear–the recovery process is long, hard, ugly, and full of guilt-inducing setbacks.
And I still get angry. Mostly because I hate Christian fundamentalism. Hate it. I hate it because of my own experiences. I don’t trust it. I hate it because I’ve witnessed hundreds and hundreds of people being hurt by it. I’ve witnessed abuse in the name of God. I’ve witnessed pastors getting away with God knows what (and using God as an excuse or a crutch). And I could go on and on. I have a very hard time seeing the “good” of Christian fundamentalist culture.
And I know that’s because of my own experiences. And it’s not always good and holy to hate something, even when you have reason to.
Still, I don’t trust fundamentalism. I don’t trust it because the people who get caught up in fundamentalist culture are taught to fear challenging fundamentalist culture. And when you don’t have the freedom to challenge, when you’re too afraid to speak up, or people shut up when you finally do voice your thoughts, that’s when fundamentalism is the most dangerous, abusive, and devastating.
But occasionally I allow my distrust of fundamentalist culture to make assumptions about people or ideas or opinions. I know that. I’m not stupid or naive. I look in the mirror. I see myself sometimes.
And I’m working on that. But here’s the thing. When you’re recovering from a fundamentalist lifestyle (like the one I was raised in), the pain and sadness and fear that you experienced can often be triggered by the simplest of things. It’s rarely the big stuff–the loud and the obnoxious stuff don’t bother me. At all. It’s little stuff that can set me off. A scent. An innuendo. A reaction. A judgment. A word. It’s the small stuff, the stuff that goes under people’s radar as innocent and good and holy that I struggle to handle with grace and love and peace. Because at my church, it was always the little stuff that hurt people the most.
And today, it’s the tiny things that can sometimes trigger my anger. Give me diarrhea. Migraines. Thankfully, the angry days or moments are becoming more spread apart. I’m still healing, but I’m moving forward.
Does my anger show up in a blog post from time to time? Sure. But far less than many people assume. I think sometimes people mistake my passion as anger. And I do have a lot of passion. But passion is very different from anger.
Passion is fueled by what and who you love and anger is fueled by what and who you hate.
For instance, yesterday’s post about Dr. Jim Garlow and his stance regarding gay marriage wasn’t because I hate or am angry at Dr. Jim Garlow. I post that because I love gay people. Because God loves gay people. And I believe my gay brothers and sisters should enjoy the same freedoms as I enjoy.
I don’t post videos of evangelists and preachers saying crazy things because I hate those men and women, I post those videos because I’m passionate about the message of the gospel, how it gets communicated, how it gets promoted. I think that’s true for most of the people who visit this blog on a regular basis.
This blog isn’t about me being angry at “The Church” or at “Christians”; it’s about me being passionate about God, Jesus, and a message of hope that I really believe in. But this blog is also about my passion for all people–from the fundamentalist to the Rob Bell lover to the Muslim to the atheist and all those in between–to have a place where they are free to engage God’s story. However they want to engage God’s story. To believe it or trust it or challenge it or not believe it or love it or hate it or…
…even get angry at it.
And hopefully, perhaps in some small way, find a little hope in it.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering: Today’s answer is still… no, I’m not angry.