An extra DQ reading
Another couple of Quaker takes on Anger brought to us by Marge Abbott
COUNTERPOINT by Esther Mürer1
Reflections on Anger
Hurt at Friends’ failure to perceive our art as a valid form of service or witness is widespread among us. What kind of support we can legitimately ask from our meetings is a question leading into deep spiritual waters. For openers I feel led to share the following, adapted from a piece I wrote for the Central Philadelphia MM newsletter.
The creedless nature of liberal Quakerism inevitably carries with it the dangers of Ranterism—the tendency to interpret any impulse coming from within as being Spirit-led. A religion based on premises that are both unstated and unexamined invites me to project my own content on it, so that the "community" becomes an extension of myself. When I can't see the boundary between me and not-me, discernment and accountability are impossible.
Is Ranterism more of a danger for artists than for others? Are we especially prone to conflate our inner vision and the community’s unstated premises? I don’t know, but the question is worth asking. Certainly many of us are angry at our meetings, or with Friends. This anger often has a subtext which goes something like this: "You neither know nor care where I really live. As a member of this community I have a right to be understood!"
When I’m in this mood it generally turns out that what I crave is not help in growing into greater obedience to the leadings of the Spirit, but support for my rebellious self-will, my spiritual pride, my flight from the Hound of Heaven. In learning to understand and deal with my own anger I have found the following quotations to be valuable touchstones. The first is from Paul:
Pain borne in God’s way brings no regrets but a change of heart leading to salvation; pain borne in the world’s way brings death. —2 Cor 7:10 (REB)
The Greek word rendered here as "pain" (many translations use "grief" or "sorrow") covers a wide spectrum of physical and mental anguish, from grief to resentment to outrage. Compare the use of the word sore in the second quote, which comes from the "step book" of Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:
It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us. If somebody hurts us and we are sore, we are in the wrong also.
When I’m mired down in anger I need to ask myself wherein I am wrong, and what kind of change God may be asking of me. I often discover that God is trying to tell me something I don’t want to hear, and that I’m looking to the Meeting to shield me from having to hear it. I am trying to get the meeting to support a false self, to abet my resistance to God's will for my life. When that doesn’t work, I blame the Meeting. If, on the other hand, it does work--if I receive the support I’m asking for--that just makes things worse. The result is a sort of spiritual arms race in which my demands that the meeting shore up my defenses against God escalate in a vicious circle.
Closely related is the "Let’s all get together and do my thing" ploy. I hear what I am being called to do, but I don’t have the courage to do it alone and face the possible negative consequences. From the Meeting I don’t just want clearness or encouragement or support; I want everybody else to hear my call as theirs, to rescue me from the consequences, to bear my cross. When this doesn’t happen I start muttering things about a prophet being without honor in her own country.
In both these cases my anger may be justified, but it is misdirected. I should be mad at God, not the Meeting. God can make the most outrageous demands. If I take time to have it out with God, then I do undergo a change of heart; I see that I must stop grumbling and get on with minding my call. And, as George Fox would put it, "then content comes."
I bear pain in the world’s way when I use my anger as an defense against hearing or minding my call. I bear pain in God’s way when I mind my call and accept the cross involved.
Paul is right: on the all too rare occasions when I’ve managed to bear pain in God’s way, I have never regretted it.
ON ANGER AMONG FRIENDS
Terry H. Smith Wallace
Friends Journal July 1/15, 1982
No problem can so quickly undermine Friends meetings today as the refusal to recognize anger, the failure to express it, and the avoidance of the painful labor needed to work past it to new spiritual growth. No problem so retards and depresses meeting growth as festering unexpressed anger. In fact, Friends, more than most other religious gatherings, may' have a special problem with anger because of deep and abiding testimonies for humanity, peace, and reconciliation.
In seeking to live these testimonies with divine guidance, we too often bottle up our
feelings—especially our more negative ones—when differences arise in our meetings. Perhaps we have a fear that anger will mark us as "not Friendly," as falling short of our testimonies.
Perhaps we fear that we may damage the meeting community. Yet that anger, unexpressed, will damage the community even more readily, just as it does marriages and other human relationships. Without the expression of anger, the community begins to disintegrate. Without the acknowledgment of meeting conflict, nothing can be done to resolve it.
We forget that where there is great love, there can still be anger. In suppressing our
emotions, we forget that they will smolder and rise to confront our meetings by being displaced into other issues that have little or nothing to do with the real issue over which the anger grew. We cannot deny our emotions. Such denial is a form of dishonesty, of self-deceit, and we forget that deceit was one of the "sins'' most witnessed against by early Friends as they spoke Truth.
In fact, one of the most distinct differences between early Friends and us is the handling of anger. Early Friends were rich in anger—but not hate. (We must distinguish between the two: anger expressed with care is a healthy honesty; anger suppressed is the beginning of hate, hate that will breed more deceit, produce yet more strife, and finally run out into open conflict.) Early Friends had a right to be angry. They were persecuted, jailed, killed, exiled, plundered. Their writings are vibrant with expressed anger, with honest anger, with a confrontation of real differences. Perhaps some of the avoidance of early Quaker writings by modern Friends is not so much a distaste for theology as an inability to confront their honest anger as they expressed it in the chaotic world of the 17th century. Yet in those writings are honest confrontations of differences, calls to recognize wrong and deceitful behaviors (within Friends and within the world), a speaking of truth to power and truth to self-righteous hypocrisy.
Early Friends developed many fine methods for honestly resolving conflicts among themselves, methods that found much use—the loving labor of sensitive overseers to heal breaches between Friends, the call by the clerk to hold an issue in silence up to God and to seek divine guidance when Friends fell to nasty bickering and heat (as they always will for they are human). Such methods were not conflict avoidance, but Friends' ways of resolving problems— honest confrontation, honest admission of our failure as human beings to resolve our problems, and honest holding of our problems up to the Lord of Light.
We often hear the much-quoted advice of George Fox humbly to avoid jarrings and strife. Yet even to give this advice, Fox was painfully aware that Friends could and would be angry with one another and at times fall into bitter conflict with one another. To aid Friends in coping with the darknesses within them, Fox wrote scores of epistles weighty with pastoral advice, wise in the spirit of God and humanity. The sheer number of these suggests Friends from the first could be every bit as cantankerous as the rest of humanity. From his epistles, we may gain much solid advice on handling anger and conflict when it does arise among us, a few choice examples of which we might note here:
• Fox was well aware of our pride and its tendency to move towards arrogance—the old "my measure of the Light is greater than yours" syndrome. (How do we know?) Thus, he and most of the other major Quaker figures during the17th century called constantly for humility, that we should consider that others might be closer to the Light than we ourselves, that we should "keep in the lowly mind, and the humility of Christ."
• However, when troubles do come, when anger. and hard judging attitudes arise, as they will, Fox suggests private one-on-one meetings are in order rather than public judgments and heated condemnatory exchanges. While the following epistle, 116, applies to meeting for worship, it is as relevant to meetings for business since both should be approached in a spirit of waiting for divine guidance:
Friends, do not judge one another in meetings, ye that do minister in the meetings;
for your so doing hath hurt the people, both within and without, and yourselves
under their judgment ye have brought. And your judging one another in the
meetings hath emboldened others to quarrel, and judge you also in the meetings.
And this hath been all out of order, and the church order also. Now, if ye have any
thing to say to any, stay till the meeting be done, and then speak to them in private
between yourselves, and do not lay open one another's weakness; for that is
weakness and not wisdom to do so. For your judging one another in meetings hath
almost destroyed some Friends, and distracted them. And this is for want of love
that beareth all things; and therefore let it be amended. No more, but my love.
• Even the leave-taking of a meeting for business is important. Clearly, Fox does not advise the "few minutes" of ritual silence at close of business but something far more weighty in his 162nd epistle:
Friends,—Keep your meetings in the power of God, and in his wisdom (by which
all things were made), and in the love of God, that by that ye may order all to his
glory. And when Friends have finished their business, sit down and continue
awhile quietly, and wait upon the Lord to feel him: and go not beyond the power,
but keep in the power, by which God Almighty may be felt among you.... And so,
by the power of the Lord ye come to love truth, and love Jesus Christ, and love
holiness. . . .
When ye judge of matters, or when ye judge of words, or when ye judge of
persons, all these are distinct things. A wise man will not give both his ears to
one party, but reserve one for the other party, and will hear both, and then judge.
Fox had an abiding faith in addressing issues quietly, but honestly. His actions during some of the great conflicts among the early Friends in his lifetime (the Nayler affair, the storm over the establishment of women's meetings) suggest he attempted to practice what he advised. In each case, he was not the leader in the rapprochement among Friends, but one among many being honest about how he felt (including his anger at James Nayler) and one among many seeking the redemption of the community through hard and painful feeling after God.
Many Friends are acquainted with the anecdote of the Marlborough Footwashing, which was instrumental in leading to the establishment of Marlborough Meeting in Chester County, Pennsylvania, by the two Friends in contention. It is the story of two Friends, angry and contentious for several years, finally facing their anger and growing redemptively through it. As the tale goes, a difference arose between one Richard Barnard and a younger neighbor, Isaac Baily, respecting their land line and use of a water course. Over several years, many Friendly attempts were made to resolve the conflict and many Friendly arbiters utilized, all of whom found in Richard's favor. The two Friends could not have been farther apart. Baily is described by William Woys Weaver in his history of the event (Firbank Press, 1981) as "extremely contentious and constantly in difficulty with his friends, neighbors, and even his monthly meeting" (he supported the Revolutionary War). Barnard had taken an opposite stand, which resulted in his extremely harsh treatment by authorities. Thus, in spite of all Friendly efforts, the matter remained at an impasse and appeared unresolvable.
One day, a traveling minister, who was a stranger, stopped at Barnard's and was told the
circumstances of the case. The minister, instead of judging the situation, merely replied:
"Richard, there is more required of some than others." As Friends Miscellany (Vol. V, 1834, 369-373) notes, this was the final catalyst for redemptive action—painful action:
This excited in his mind a further inquiry, what could be possibly done, that
would be likely to have the desired effect? While in this thoughtful and inquiring
state of mind, it presented to him, that he must go and wash his neighbor's feet;
and he would then be friendly with him again. When this impression was first
made, he revolted at the idea, and thought he could not do it; but the impression
remained forcibly on his mind that after a considerable time he became so
prepared to yield to it, and his eyes burst into a flood of tears.
The act itself was not easy, and not at first met with understanding. We are told that Richard rose early, and with bottles of water, basin, and towel, he walked to Baily's house. Richard found him not yet up, so went to Baily's room and informed him of his willingness to wash his feet in order that they might in the future live as proper Friends. Baily refused, but Richard continued, explaining his distress over the estrangement and the consequences of continued unfriendliness.
Baily ignored him and attempted to rise to dress, whereupon Richard seized his foot and began washing it. At first Baily struggled, but he soon became calm and allowed both his feet to be washed. He then dressed and accompanied Richard to the door, where the latter left him to his own reflections. The same day Richard observed his neighbor opening the water course where it should run and afterwards received Baily and his wife on a friendly social visit. The injury was healed and continued so to the death of the two men, both donating substantial monies for the establishment of Marlborough Meeting.
In conclusion, we should remember that neither Christ nor Fox ever called us to niceness. We were called to be guided by the Lord of Light, to walk humbly, simply, honestly, and rightly. As human beings we have an undeniable capacity for anger. Recognizing that, we might well walk humbly, simply face it, honestly address it, and thus do rightly to our fellows. We might well heed the variation, written by John McCandless (in his Yet Still We Kneel), on Robert Frost's famous poem
"Fire and Ice":
While I agree about the fire
(and also the ice),
I fear our world may not require
desire or hate or other vice
so violent to cause its fate.
For there's a smog we all inspire
that insulates us from desire
or from, indifferently, hate.
Fact is, our world could perish thrice
just being nice.