At our tots group Hannah read (in awesome Hannah style) about some animals that felt angry! We also had play dough out…now that’s good therapy!! There’s so much that could be written about anger. Is it a primary or secondary emotion (by all means google that but I think I side with “erm….yep”) there are debates about whether it’s healthy or unhealthy…yep! Arguments over whether it’s a feeling or a reaction (again, yep!) There are discussions about if it’s right to express it or repress it…whether we channel it into something positive or take it out on the nearest pillow(slightly simplified!!). Simply put, anger is complicated!
So where’s the wisdom…what’s worth saying that doesn’t just get us into an endless debate and leave us feeling niggled!! I have three stories to share with you, stories that possibly open us up to another way of understanding this feeling (or reaction) that we all experience to some degree at some point!
The first is the story of Moses. The story starts with a baby, a baby hidden in some bulrushes by the river so that pharaohs soldiers don’t kill it. This baby is discovered by a princess then returned to his mother to be nursed until he’s old enough to move to the palace. This baby is on adventure and he has no idea! An unknown Hebrew baby finds himself raised as a prince in an Egyptian palace. A life of privilege and promise. This prince begins to notice how badly the people he’s being raised by are treating his birth tribe, it’s not good and he reaches, what could be described as his “popeye” moment (we’ll come to that story in a second). Moses becomes so angry he kills the Egyptian and buries the body…what he doesn’t realise is that this murder didn’t go unnoticed(anger has consequences) and he’s called up on it so he runs, to the desert, where he encounters a burning bush, the voice of God and ends up rescuing his tribe from the slavery they’ve endured at the hands of the Egyptians…(I think I might have over simplified the ending a little!) Which begs the question…How on earth did Popeye get a mention in the story of Moses?!
Popeye…here you go a short synopsis of Popeye if you need a reminder or genuinely never encountered the crazy little fellow in your childhood!
Popeye is a sailor man in love with a girl called Olive Oyl. Popeye was pretty relaxed most of the time but every now and again something would happen that angered him so much he’d shout: “That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more!” Popeye would pop open a can of spinach and swallow it in one go. He’d find himself with extraordinary strength and leap into action to rescue his sweetheart.
This Popeye moment or Popeye Point (“that’s all I can stands and I can’t stands no more”) is a phenomena recognised by psychologists (google psychology today:Popeye Point) which raises another question. What makes you angry?
We all get angry, sometimes just sheer frustration; or complete irritation; maybe it’s triggered by fear or a response to an attack, physical or emotional, on ourselves or someone we love. Depression can be expressed as anger, as can bereavement…there are so many reasons; and sometimes that anger can be destructive or at its best not constructive. Which raises another question…what’s the third story?
The story starts with a baby who the king wants to kill (sound familiar) who lives the first years of his life as a refugee, away from those who see his life as a threat to theirs. He grows, not in a palace but in the shed of a carpenter until one day he steps up to the adventure that is his. He begins a life of travel and conversation, of teaching and of questioning the status quo, challenging the systems that everyone else seems resigned to. Occasionally there’s an anger stirred within him (more often he seems to stir an anger within others!) …it’s an anger that drives him to throw tables around in a temple** frustrated by the system that’s totally missed the point of why it exists…it’s as if Jesus (did you guess that’s who the story was about?!) reaches a Popeye Point…but this anger doesn’t lead to uncontrolled violence, at least not on his part…the anger that’s stirred within Jesus urges him to continue the journey into a new way of being in the world, a journey that we’re invited to join. I reckon that for us sometimes there’s an anger that’s stirred by injustice, an anger that’s born out of the need for things to change, anger that’s holy, righteous, zealous and necessary if we’re going to make a difference for good in the world. I imagine that as we journey on in this crazy thing we call life along the way we might well discover our Popeye Point and find that there’s a temple that still needs to be overturned!
*creds to Bill Hybels and his incredibly inspirational book Holy Discontent!
**John 2:13-17 in the Bible!