Hello. Apparently if you tell your pastor that you “could” write a sermon you end up here. To give you context, I am the same individual who began a summer as a Youth Peace Travel Team Member without his own bible. I look up to many of you as teachers, and so I would like to report on what I have learned.
I grew up angry. Or I was raised angry. Although constantly told that with the divorce rate close to 50%, my childhood was not unique, the effects of a family divided were felt. Whether it was learned by example or innate matters little, the truth is I was angry. During a time of self-reflection in my senior year of college, I wrote the following:
“I am no good at talking about my anger. Few people know what anger is. What other people call yelling, I call raising my voice. What other people call mean, I call a daily routine.
You don’t know anger until its behind you, in your house, raising you. The face darkens and the tone deepens as emotions are blasted at you from a depth you don’t even understand. But it isn’t some enemy or some person you don’t know behind you, berating you verbally for the crash you just caused. No it is you staring right back at you, maybe not quite, but forty years older and your only model for manhood.
So you push it back. You don’t listen, you just grow up with the negation. That is NOT what I want to be. I can be smart, funny, outgoing, and NOT angry. But that is never as powerful as the positive. I do not want to just be NOT ANGRY. I want to be HAPPY.”
Expressions of this anger took the form of beating up on my younger brother with new wrestling moves I had learned, yelling at various family members, or sulking. Once, I argued with our mother about how much Alex was crying and how it was unacceptable for him to cry when I appeared as I was his older brother, and by the same coin his biggest bully. I am sure Alex could list more examples for you, however, either by choice or old age I can no longer remember more.
I struggled with anger and the appropriate expression of many of my emotions. I was told frequently to “feel my feelings”. Sporting event losses, childhood antics, and sibling relationships were all discussed heavily in our family. Unfortunately, in life, the best teachers are the mistakes we make.
One Sunday evening in the San Gabriel Mountains, I pushed my brother onto a rope swing over a ravine. He would end up falling and breaking both of his wrists and shattering the top of his left knee cap. I have thought about the moments leading up to the push. Why? What does this do for you? I think I wanted my brother to be like me. Maybe I didn’t want him to be afraid.
After impact, he yelled at me “Chris, how come you never listen to me?”
I helped him limp to my Mom. She called 9-1-1. I made my way to a car alone.
I thrashed, yelled, cried. All in that car alone for half an hour. I drove to my relatives’ house and told them Alex was in the hospital and that he fell. I did not tell them I pushed him.
I was in a loop: “What have I done? Will he ever talk to me again?”
To wrap up a happy story, I took care of him for the next few months or so until it felt like we could be brothers again. The anger and guilt subsided. In some small way, I was allowed to apologize for a lifetime of pain.
At the time, I did not have the words for the lesson I learned. Previously, I had dealt with anger by negating it or using it in sport. After a few years, a friend of mine from high school recommended watching a movie entitled “American History X”. In the movie, we follow a pair of brothers handling race relations in Venice Beach, CA. After their family loses their father, the elder brother cultivates a white supremacist group to effect what he believes is positive change. The elder brother spends time in prison after an incident with his newfound group.
As the horrors of prison life become more visible and corporeal, he is visited by an old high school teacher. Through the discussions they have, the teacher recognizes the same frustration and fury he had in his youth in the man in prison. The teacher poses this question to the man in prison:
“Has anything you’ve done made your life better?”
The man shakes his head and asks for help to get out. The teacher goes on to tell him that running from the situation he has created will not be enough. He has to struggle with the frustration and anger he has stirred.
After hearing my brother’s words and asking myself the teacher’s question, I have attempted to use my anger. To use that initial surge of energy to alert me to pay attention. The act, the person, or the moment are important to me. My person wants to expend more energy to address the situation. Although I may not always get it right, the acknowledgement of my piqued interest in an event gives me an opportunity to have a better response than I would otherwise.
I am still working on making my life better but that is the wrestling match that is life. We are called to continue the endeavor and grip the weakness of our character, whether that be anger, fear, shame, sadness, or emptiness. To be aware of these flaws or concerns we have and not to fix them, but to be mindful. To be mindful that these reactions are signals for where to put our energy.
Eventually the energy turns to action, action into lesson, and lesson into a better life.