Anger Metastasizes Into Contempt, Rage Into Disgust


Anger can be righteous, when we are wronged,  when somebody we care about is wronged, or when we see injustice carried out. 

Anger is a high-energy state.  It tends to either dissipate or harden,  metastasize,  into a lower energy state … like contempt. 

Anger is an emotion of engagement. An angry person will push, even fight for change. Angry people are still in dialogue, still in relationship. 

When that hardens to contempt,  all that goes away.  People are written off as incorrigible,  as useless,  as bad people,  as worthless,  as less than, as unclean, as other

As Richard Beck noted in his book Unclean, contempt is the emotion of separation,  of dehumanization, the emotion that chokes empathy and hospitality, and justifies all manner of abuses and cruelties. 

So fight for your anger.  Hold onto our until you are ready to let go and forgive.  Don’t let it turn into something vile and cancerous, something that takes settles into your heart until it feels like it belongs there. 

But forgive quickly, and give yourself some distance  to heal, because there’s another emotion that can take hold, a high energy state even more destructive than contempt: 

Hate.

And we can’t let that one in. It’s the worst devil of them all. 

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The Kingdom of God Is Like a Pirate?


Richard Beck,  Professor of Experimental Psychology at Abilene Christian University​, has one off the most interesting and insightful blogs out there,  Experimental Theology 

And last week he had one of his most head-shakingly brilliant series yet: Jesus and the Jolly Roger. As you can tell by the intro video, it was inspired by Kestin Brewer’s book  Mutiny: why we love pirates and how they can save us.

Brewer’s main thesis is that piracy arises when the common goods have been taken over by the wealthy and powerful. 

17th & 18th century sailors were basically slaves, having often been pressganged into service, and treated horribly,  and used up until they died. Remember the great traditions of the British Navy, “rum, sodomy, and the lash.

Turning pirate was a way to escape and fight back against a violent,  exploitative, and utterly wicked empire  (several of them, actually).

For that matter, popular music and media used to be more free, with 28 year copyrights, not life of the author plus 70. People used to play their own music, they just owned the culture a bit more.

But the big entertainment companies got the laws changed, and now basically nothing will ever become public domain again. 

So the pirates set sail again, less violently, against a much lesser evil. 

Dr. Beck extends the metaphor into the spiritual domain.  In Jesus’s time,  the religious elites in the temple (in Greco-Roman and, more applicably, Jewish life) systems had become gatekeepers of religion, faith, and salvation … gatekeepers of God. 

Jesus bypassed the gatekeepers of empire and temple to bring good news to the outcasts,  the lower classes, the excluded.

Early Christianity was a religion of women, slaves, and the lower classes. 

Dr. Beck gives a much more in depth analysis. You should check it out. 

Imposters of God – An Introduction

1932 U.S. Gold Coin, showing an eagle

So first off, why am I doing a blog series on a thin little book from the mid-sixties, written by a man I’d never heard of before this month?

Well, William Stringfellow comes highly recommended. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams called Stringfellow “Probably the most creative and disturbing Anglican theologian” of the 20th century … a century that includes C.S. Lewis.  That got my attention. Who is this guy, and why haven’t I heard of him before?

It turns out Stringfellow was a lay theologian, a lawyer by trade. He lived in New York and spent a lot of time practicing law for the benefit of the poor and otherwise unrepresented. He “walked the walk,” as it’s said. So this “most creative and disturbing theologian” wasn’t even seminary-trained? Now you really have my attention.

But where do I start? Dr. Richard Beck (of Abilene Christian University’s Psychology department and the Experimental Theology blog) called Imposters of God the best single-volume survey of William Stringfellow’s theology.  And it’s about modern-day Western idolatry, one of my favorite topics (if by “favorite topics” you mean infuriating things I’m slightly obsessed with).

So obviously I wanted to see what the fuss was about. Imposters of God is only 66 pages long in its current printing. But if the first chapter is any indication, it has more real meat than most 400-page tomes.

In his foreword, Stringfellow gets to the heart of the matter: the jarring disconnect between sanctuary and society, especially in a nominally Christian society.

Six days a week, Christians seem identical to everyone else. One day a week, we enter into various worship ceremonies ranging from the ornate to the causal to the concert-ish.

What does this mean? Is our worship more than a sentimental or superstitious practice?

Is it more than a social club or opportunity to network?

Is it more than a prerequisite for respectability in the Bible Belt?

Why is the most religious of the industrialized nations also the most violent, most calculating, most ambitious, most status-seeking?

Stringfellow proposes an answer: we have been led astray into idolatry. And idolatry is, at its heart, the worship of death.

We’ll explore what this means over the next few weeks. I believe that as Stringfellow pulls back the curtain on our treasured Western Christian American culture, we’re all going to bleed a little.

But that’s a good thing. Sometimes the only way to heal is to cut out the infection. And sometimes the only way to serve God is to tear down your father’s idols, as Gideon learned.

Next time, Chapter 1: The Mystery of Idolatry.