Friday, April 14, 2006

A Timely Message from my friend, Michael...

"...If you lessen your anger at the structures of power, you lower your love for the victims of power." William Sloan Coffin

I agree with this so very much. There are those Christian peacemakers who believe that nonviolence entails never getting angry. I think that’s a load of *&^%#@! and always have.

Jesus clearly got angry on several occasions. Paul tells us “in your anger, sin not.” And before anyone quotes Matt 5:21-26 at me, I remind you that Greek verb tense is a continual action so that a better translation would be, “[I]f you hold on to anger with your brother [or sister], you will be liable to judgment.” Nursing anger and resentment can lead to sin. That was God’s message to Cain—not that his anger was already sinful, but that it was an opportunity for sin, crouching like a lion, to have him. Cain failed to listen and murdered his brother, Abel. The sad story of the world continues on from there. The purpose of Matt. 5:21-26 is not to present a legalistic standard to which none can attain, refraining from all anger, but to present us with a working mechanism to keep this from becoming an opportunity for our own crouching lions—we go to the brother or sister and we talk—even interrupting worship to do so...

See Michael Westmoreland-White's full essay at the Jeff Street blog.


Marty said...

Timely indeed! When I visit here I always find something that refreshes my soul. Thanks Dan.

Eleutheros said...

This post sent me looking back into the dark recesses of the barn into those boxes of old books for my copy of Thor Heyerdahl's Fatu Hiva

You might remember Heyerdahl from his account of the Kon Tiki expedition. But his first venture came right after the second world war when he and his bride when to the Marquesas to live a primitve life on the island of Fatu Hiva. Why, you might ask.

Heyerdahl's explanation is eloquent but alas I did not find the book, but this is the jist:

When the troops of his regiment were mustered to face the Germans who threatened to cross the Norwegian border, there was a solemn Luthern ceremony asking God to help them blow the enemy to bits. Heyerdahl was struck by the absurdity of the situation since most of the Germans across the border were also Lutherns and he had no doubt their clergy were asking God's help to kill all of them.

Things don't change much do they? You have Christians who hold deeply that it is their sacred duty to pray for George's efforts and become wroth and angry (correctly, righteously angry) and those who oppose him. And just across the way are Christians working themselves up into a righteous lather over the very actions the other Christians are praying for.

I see what's wrong with this picture. Do we really think God is up there biting His nails in frustration and annoyance because Bush is president?

Eleutheros said...

And I'm afraid your exegete might need to polish up on his Greek a bit. In Matt 5:21 the phrase that is translated, "If anyone is angry with his brother ..." isn't actually a verb at all, it is the present participle (orgizomenos) 'being angry'. It literally reads "every one being angry with his brother". The closest sense to the meaning in Greek is "when one is angry with his brother". It does NOT denote a continual action, but rather a durative action. That is, it does not mean "Everyone who is continually angry with his brother is in danger of the judgement" but rather "As long as you are angry with your brother, you are in danger of the judgement."

(Had to switch pronouns, the original phrase is pas ho orgizomenos)

pas = every (one)
ho = who (relative pronoun)
orgizomenos = being angry

Dan Trabue said...

Good to hear from you, Ellie.

As to the Greek, I don't speak it. My friend is quite a wise man and pretty well-versed in Hebrew and Greek, but as always, it is possible he could be wrong. Or you.

As I said, I don't speak it.

Dan Trabue said...

"Do we really think God is up there biting His nails in frustration and annoyance because Bush is president?"

Well now, I can't prove it, but I have a hunch that God is verily annoyed with a good many of us, Bush included.

Eleutheros said...

Ho, Dan,

It's not a matter of being right or wrong. I seriously doubt your friend has anything less than a complete knowledge of Greek per se.

Rather it's an exercise in dogmatism, I'd say. The earnest seeker will continually run up against things that he doesn't want to be true, he doesn't want to believe, and yet he finds them and the evidence that they are true none the less. Such a one must continually adjust what he believes as he is successful in his seeking.

On the other hand the dogmatist is continually looking for evidence that what he wants to believe, what he already believes, is the immutable truth and rejects aught else, or bends and kneads it to fit his dogmatism.

Your friend genuinely wants to be angry at Bush. But we know that Anger is one of the seven deadly sins. What to do, what to do! Well, let's polish and knead the meaning of a verse so that it reads "angry all the time" rather than just "angry" and then I can indulge in a sin so long as I don't do it all the time.

The exact same gramatical structure is used quite often in the Greek NT. For example, skip on down a bit to verse 27 of the same chapter and we find "Whoso looketh upon a woman" pas ho blepon gynaika. The present participle again.

Sooooo ... by your friend's exegesis it really means "continually lusting" but if we just do it a little, it's not really a sin, eh? If you are on the porn site for 45 minutes you are OK, but don't be on there for two hours.

Verse 32, same construction. So it's not a sin divorce your wife (wives) so long as you just do it a few times.

It's OK to kill a few people, just don't go about killing people all the time. I'm sure there's some exegete who has Bush's ear who tells him that the Bible endorses the civilian casualties in the war, after all, it isn't a sin unless you go over a certain quota.

The medievalists identified the seven deadly sins and the virtuous counterpart of each. The sin is ira "anger" and it's counterpart (antidote) is patiencia "endurance", "perseverence". The virtuous person works patiently and perseveringly to eliminate the source and motivation of evil, such as not using the oil which is the cause of the war (directly or indicrectly, more oil goes into the taco from the Bell than in the car to fetch it) while the sinner just gets angry.

Both, you say? Christianity has long taught that sin is the opposite of virtue. Honesty is not made more holy by throwing in a little thievery in with it, patience is not made more holy by throwing in a little anger with it.

Eleutheros said...

Dan:"but I have a hunch that God is verily annoyed with a good many of us"

I have a feeling that God has no need for petty human vices such as annoyance. Sock puppets, maybe, but not God.

Dan Trabue said...

Ellie, sometimes I just don't know how to answer your points, but let me give it a shot.

You said:
"Your friend genuinely wants to be angry at Bush. But we know that Anger is one of the seven deadly sins. What to do, what to do!"

And I don't know what your point is, or what you're advocating.

Do you think we ought not ever be angry? I don't think that's the case, but maybe I'm wrong.

Do you think the Bible advocates never being angry? Again, I doubt that's your point.

My guess (given that you've said as much) is that you think the bible is a Rorschach test where one can find what one wants. And there is plenty of evidence to support that point.

But what of it? This is true of most writings except for technical writing and the tax code (in which case one is doing good to find ANY meaning).

If you want to advocate against anger, then do so and we'll discuss that. But if you agree with the point, then why dost thou kick against the goads?

Eleutheros said...

Dan:"But what of it? This is true of most writings except for technical writing and the tax code "

Dan, you and he author of the sermon might well be enlightened enough to view the Bible like the pirates in Pirates of the Carribean viewed the "code".

"More like guidlelines than actual rules."

But I assure you most people do not. When I look at the pictures you posted of the Jeff Street congregation, I see a lot of impressionable young faces.

When impressionable people hear those they hold in respect and authority make a point based on the Bible, they have a tendancy to set aside their own reason and sometimes even their own decency in defference to "God". Just look at the middle east to see where this is in play. Why kill innocents? Why, it's the will of Allah!

So using the Bible to justify venting one's bile against Bush is not the same thing as the tax code or any literature. Nobody suspends their own birthright of reason based on what Mark Twain or George Bernard Shaw wrote or on Schedule C, but they will do so for "God."

The teaching about anger is expressed in the same language as the teachings about theft, murder, gluttony, avarice, and a host of other things.

I would think it would befit a man of the cloth to sermonize on how to fight against the demon of anger rather than pat himself on the back for giving into it.