Boiling Point: When the Anger is Too Much

Anger is a funny thing. It occurs naturally and is a perfectly healthy and valid emotion. It’s also perhaps the most negatively viewed emotion.

This is why I have always sought to control it… and by control, I apparently mean bury.

I had a legitimately bad temper as a boy. I fought frequently, and I owe a lot of people apologies. This was due to my tendency to feel in extremes, something I still struggle with.

Over the years, though, I learned to remain more calm, more unaffected. I thought this was because I was adequately processing my anger. I would feel the rage bubbling up, remind myself to stay controlled, and habitually talk myself into what I thought was serenity.

The trouble is that my son has no intention of letting me continue to live my lie.

He is a baby, and as such he is capable of making me feel waves of extreme emotion that are stronger than anything I’ve ever even imagined. When he is upset or hurting without anything clear solution, the helplessness I feel quickly morphs into sheer rage at my own apparent ineptitude. Naturally, I don’t “hulk out” on my 5 month old, BUT I have had to set him down and go punish my punching bag for a few seconds.

I don’t like this. I don’t like that I am apparently two people. One is a calm, frustratingly even personality while the other is a raging maniac, angry at everyone and everything.

As fate would have it, I was expressing all this to a friend last night. After some back-and-forth, she said something that stuck.

“If you don’t say it out loud then you just keep pushing it down until it can’t be held down again, and then boom! There it is.”

I realized that I haven’t been processing my anger at all. I was denying it. I was packaging it and setting it on a shelf that is now crashing down, and all I keep doing is duct taping that shelf to a wall, hoping it will stay up.

So I took her advice.

I went for a run, with no music, naming all the people and situations that ever angered me. As you can, imagine, 28 years worth of crap makes for a long list. As I named things, I said why I was angry, and bit by bit, I felt it start to melt away.

I began to see myself as I am now. Instead of hating my body and being angry with those who made me feel inadequate, I envisioned myself carrying Aidan and all his stuff repeatedly throughout the day. My body is strong and helps me care for and protect him.

Instead of hating my voice and being angry at all the moments my musical abilities were dismissed, I thought of how happy Aidan is when I play guitar and sing for him.

Instead of raging out at all the times I’ve messed up, made mistakes, gotten fired, left the church, hurt my loved ones, or felt abandoned by those I thought were friends, I realized that I am not “that guy” anymore. I am a good father, and I am a good husband. I’ve grown so much over the past few years, and I am proud of that.

As I continued to feel, name, and understand my anger, it began to dissipate. My rage just wanted to be seen, felt, and acknowledged for the legitimate emotion it is. As I did this, pounding my frustrations into the pavement, I felt lighter, more present, more one with myself.

The truth is that all our emotions are gifts. They help us to relate to this life and understand our place in it. Just as joy, excitement, and serenity are valid emotional states, so are anger, grief, and others that we often try to dismiss or avoid. They help us to accept those moments when life hurts.

Just as our lives are full of happy, incredible, beautiful moments, so there are also moments of intense darkness and loss. We need an emotional spectrum that addresses both. Only then can we be truly alive.

That’s why I want to encourage you to not do what I did. Don’t confuse bottling, packaging, and stpring emotions with accepting and processing them in a healthy way. Be what you are, feel what you feel, and enjoy the ride.

Peace be with you!

Letting Go

I am a huge fan of Ecclesiastes, a wisdom text of the Hebrew Bible, just past Proverbs. It’s a book that bursts the bubble of many biblical teachings. It’s view on life is more realistic to me.

Do the righteous always get the best things? No.

Are the wicked always punished? No.

Does more wisdom or foolishness help you avoid the end that awaits us all? Nope.

Are we humans truly the center, point, and focus of creation? Not even close.

Ecclesiastes is rough on the optimist and the narcissist. It announces that “the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity” (3:19, NRSV).

Yikes.

Yet I find Ecclesiastes to be the most liberating text I’ve ever read. It has a circular, cyclical view of reality. “That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is” (3:15, NRSV).

My favorite reminder, however, is this: “Moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil” (3:13, NRSV).

For the author, there is nothing better than this. He observes people endlessly striving to accumulate more and more, to become the wisest or richest or strongest. The realization that comes to him is that “All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again” (3:20, NRSV). Therefore, instead of wasting life in the rat race, we should make ample time to pause, to rest, to enjoy life.

“But wait!” says our culture, “That’s for retired people! You have to earn it by working yourself to an early grave! You need more, MORE, M O R E!”

We fall for this all the time. We take vacations maybe once a year. We work ourselves to death so we can get everything we are “supposed to have,” a house, a child, a new car. All the while, we miss family dinners, fly by moments we should absorb entirely, and let stressed-out consumerism run the show.

I was sitting on the floor with my son today, worrying about the fact that this is what I do. Training makes some money, but we’d be *much* better off if I also worked a 9-Whenever for a corporate gym.

Then I remembered Ecclesiastes.

ENJOY. ALL GO TO ONE PLACE.

More stuff and money won’t make me immortal. It will all go to someone else. But these moments with my son, my family? They are all mine, only available right now.

So I am letting go. This world can blitz itself into oblivion. But me? I’ve got people to love, places to be, time to “waste” not gaining a thing.

I already have it all.

Peace be with you!

Work is Not Worth

When I was no longer working as a minister, I hit a downward spiral. I had to reconstruct myself without the foundation I had always had: my work. What I did became who I was, and anyone who knows that story knows it wasn’t a healthy situation.

Fast forward two years, and I have a son. I’m primarily a stay-at-home dad who does some personal training on the side. I love this boy, and I have never been as happy at a job as I am when taking care of him.

But.

When he cries or fights, when he is uncomfortable, I take it personally. I get upset and the self-flagellation begins. I feel like a failure.

In my head, I know that babies are just upset sometimes. I know you can do everything right and they will still cry. But in my gut, I still carry old “scripts” about the “job” reflecting the character and worth of a person. I still see myself in terms of how well I do things as opposed to simply valuing who I am.

This is a common problem. Lots of conversations between strangers center around what one does, as though that indicates something important about the character of a person. A person’s success is measured by their job, their education, their pay, their achievements.

On the surface, this makes sense. We humans like to quantify things for the purposes of comparison. This is great for buying cars, but it’s a lazy, cruel practice when it comes to relating to each other.

So at this point, my personal work is going to center on valuing myself. I, Jordan, matter because I exist, and not because I am the perfect father, husband, writer, or trainer. I am far more than the sum of my accomplishments or failures.

The same is true for you.

Peace be with you!

Virtuous Commentating

I was reading Mark 2 last night, and when I reached the teaching on the Sabbath, it snatched my attention. The text can be found here. In this text, Jesus’ disciples flout Sabbath protocol by picking grain to eat. This counts as “harvesting,” so they draw the ire of the legalistic religious scholars known as Pharisees.

I’ve read through this text countless times. The point seems clear, that the Sabbath is a gift to people, not a means of controlling them. This time, however, I was captivated by a thought that occurred around verse 24.

The biggest problem here is that the Pharisees would rather point and shout than help.

They could have offered food to the disciples if they cared that much. Instead, they’d rather just point out the problem with the intent of discrediting and shaming the hungry bunch.

How often do we humans do this?

We could help. We could take steps to solve the problem, offer support, act with kindness. Instead, we decide to shame and denounce.

Perhaps the best lesson we could all learn is to contribute good things when we are faced with evil things. The Pharisees’ problem was that they were legalistic about the Holiness Code without helping anyone actually achieve a greater level of holiness. Our problem is that it’s easier/more convenient to shame or insult via social media or conversation than it is to actually help create a healthier environment.

I plan to be more aware of this, watching my words, opting to take action more and more. It’s my hope that more of us will do the same. Virtue signaling does too little, and inaction costs too much.

Peace be with you!

Sometimes

I had a moment today. My son had some lightly bloody stool (it happens), and the “new dad” worry combined with my old wounds to form a monster of grief. When my mom passed away, I was 10 years old. I’ve recently learned that an ambulence came and got her from the house because of how sick she had become. She died on the way to the hospital.

The worst part for me, for all this time, has been that I didn’t wake up. I didn’t hear anything; I have one blurry memory before I fell back into deep sleep. The night before, I made her a toy boat that said “Get Well Soon” on the sail, gave it to her, and she said, “Goodnight” as she shut the door. That’s the last time I ever saw her face.

Reflecting on this today, after shedding some needed tears, I arrived at an important truth.

Sometimes you don’t wake up.

Sometimes life is hell. Sometimes there is nothing you can do, sometimes it’s all out of your hands, sometimes the whole bloody world just comes down on your head and there is no solution, reason, plan, or meaning behind it.

Sometimes life is just hard…

And that is perfectly okay.

As humans, we are subject to the laws of nature and the will of others. Sometimes this means we get extraordinarily unlucky. Sometimes that means we get broken.

I am of the belief that there is no divine plan in any of this. Suffering is a part of being mortal. It’s a consequence of being subject to death.

I do find divinity, however, in the fact that life goes on. The world doesn’t actually stop, and we don’t have to either. There is always the option, the hope, that what we go through in life can change us for the better. We can become stronger, more wise, more compassionate, more self-loving, more aware of the blessings every moment has to offer. If we decide to, we can tap into the power of Life and grow from our pain rather than remaining broken by it.

This is why I love the resurrection story of Jesus. The pain doesn’t have to be the end, and if we face the darkness with faith, hope, and love, something better will come of it.

That being said, sometimes this truth is hard to see or accept and that’s okay. My point here is that wherever you’re at, whatever pain you are caught up in, it’s okay to acknowledge and feel it. It’s okay to admit that sometimes, life just isn’t good.

Just remember, that doesn’t mean it never will be.

Peace be with you!

Forced Religion: A Change in My Thinking

So normally, I’d advocate for voting according to one’s religious values. Recently, though, I have been making a distinction between voting with love and compassion as opposed to “this or that” spiritual inclination. As I’ve reflected on this change, here’s the reason that came to me:

Theocracies are always oppressive.

Whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or any other historically theocratic society, governments based on religious principles always fail their people. At best, the majority of citizens fall under the correct religious umbrella and a minority are persecuted. At worst you have the Taliban, who don’t care about religion so much as control with a religious flavor.

The United States was established by mostly Christian/Deist men. This should not be confused with the idea that the U.S. was supposed to be a Christian nation. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have protections of varied religious practices and protection against the establishment of a state religion.

I bring this up because I realized more explicitly that there is something very unspiritual about voting for a government that would force one’s spirituality on other people. Both liberals and conservatives do this, and it is quite unnerving.

Anti-abortion advocates are heavily driven by religious ideology, usually Christian. The same goes for those who are pro and anti-marriage equality or immigration reform.To force such views on each other via the vote is actually one of the most un-American, unconstitutional, and unkind things we could ever do.

Our nation was designed with a secular bent, not because the founders thought religion was stupid or going away, but because they recognized the danger in government enforcement of religious doctrine. The citizens of this country were expected to vote according to secular principles, using education, reason, and logic to make national decisions. While I would and compassion and neighborly love to this list, I otherwise agree wholeheartedly with this approach.

Now we only vote every four years in terms of the presidency, but how often do we judge or criticize others because they don’t adhere to our religious or spiritual values? Far too often, I’d say. This is, in and of itself, an unspiritual, impious tendency that needs to be eliminated. The world is too big and too diverse for one religious clan or the other to go around constantly bitching at each other, as it only results in violence, whether physical or ideological.

Now I am a Quaker. I have principles that I will adhere to in my everyday life, and those principles may get me into conflict. I, however, should not attempt to shape the rest of the world according to my views. I should simply act in accordance with the principles of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality; the rest will work itself out.

If we were more focused on individually living our own spiritualities rather than trying to force others to do so, this world might be a better place. So I have made a vow to try and do just that. I pray you’ll join me so that maybe this country can fully become the diverse, beneficial, and tolerant nation it was designed to be.

Peace be with you!