catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 11 :: 2005.06.03 — 2005.06.16


Driving me nuts

When spring break approaches, it?s vacation planning time?at least in my household. Usually the plans include the need for some kind of car. My first choice for a rental is always an economy. It?s just a car for heaven?s sake?save the money for food and excursions and important stuff like that. So that?s what I had reserved when my son Jackson and I went to Florida in January. But we were standing in line at the rental car booth when my cell phone rang. It was my husband and other son who were in Arizona telling us that they had just rented a convertible.

Well, having had the stakes raised, what else could I do? I rented a convertible. And to tell you the truth, I was kind of excited about it myself. I mean, it was a convertible, after all!

So we practice putting the top up and down and then we take off with the top up. But the sun is shining so warmly that as we are waiting at a light to change Jackson asks if we can put the top down. Sure we can. So we unlatch it and I push the button to make it go down. The light changes and we start turning into the intersection. What I don?t know, not having driven a convertible before, is that as soon as I start driving the top stops moving.

So there I was in the middle of traffic, three lanes away from the shoulder of the road with my car roof straight up in the air and I couldn?t stop and I couldn?t see anything around me.

And suddenly I went into what might be called a Zen-like experience because I started chanting. It sounded something like ?shit shit shit shit shit.? Fortunately my wonderfully calm son was able to guide us into safety without any major incident.

I think a car brings out the testosterone in me. I am more inclined to swear, to yell, to glare when I am in the safety zone of my car. In this little kingdom I rule! I can go as fast as I please or as slowly as I please?and what?s better, I have no awareness that anyone is paying any attention to me at all. In the privacy of my own space, I can sing, practice a sermon, even have a gut-wrenching cry without ever wondering what anyone thinks of me. Like a child playing peek-a-boo, I tend to believe that as long as my eyes are on the road, no one see me.

Of course once my eyes come off the road and I might glimpse you getting a glimpse of me?well, how embarrassing is that! Maybe I was just talking to myself or picking my nose. Worse still, maybe it was you I blew around when you were driving too slowly to suit me.

And of course while I don?t expect you to see me inside the car, I do expect you to honor my car. That means if my car is in a hurry, you are not to daydream through the green light. It also means that you are not to cut me off at any time for any reason. I can be in a perfectly calm place, but in my car I seem to be able to go from rational to ridiculous in 1.2 seconds.

All of us have anger triggers and recognizing them is the first step to gaining control of our impulsive reactions. Anger is not a bad thing. Anger just is. We all experience anger and we should. It?s part of being human. Anger exists for a reason. It?s there to tell us something is important and it deserves our attention and our respect. But what we do with that anger is another matter. Most people have struggled at some time with one of two responses to anger: Either we attempt to avoid anger and conflict completely or we easily become angry and end up fighting, complaining and blaming in a way that doesn?t resolve anything. In The Dance of Anger

, Harriet Lerner does a wonderful job describing the shortfalls of both of these approaches.

When we choose to be ?nice? (and women are especially good at this), we stay silent or we cry, become self-critical or get hurt. Our energy ends up going into protecting the other person and the harmony of the relationship instead of defining more clearly who we are and what we need. We might have mastered the art of feeling guilty. And all the while we absorb more and more anger and rage, without even realizing it?s there. The psychological costs are staggering.

But it simply isn?t true that the answer lies in venting our anger. That might bring us some temporary relief and serve as an important safety valve while we wait for our rational mind to reengage, but venting never changes anything. In fact, when we fail to voice our anger in a clear, direct and controlled manner, we pretty much guarantee things will stay the same. We allow others to write us off and give them a great excuse not to take us seriously or to hear what we are saying. We even help others to stay calm at our expense. Has that ever happened to you? You?re really ticked off and the other person is driving you insane because they absolutely refuse to get mad back?

Unfortunately there is no passage in any all of the New Testament that discusses Jesus behavior while behind the wheel of a car. We don?t even know if he would have driven a Ford, a Honda or a Hummer. But we do have passages that tell us Jesus could get really angry?well-placed anger, as he addresses broods of vipers and that sort of thing. And then we have the scene at the temple. I think what we have here is a case of Jesus just plain losing his temper.

Here?s what happens as far as I can tell: First, Jesus sees a terrible abuse taking place and he gets angry. This reaction shows us that there are times when it is appropriate, right, even needful for us to be angry. There is plenty to be angry about. Anger is not something to fear or avoid.

But I just have to wonder about what he does in this case with that anger. He did get people?s attention and maybe that?s all he really intended to do. But it seems to me he also gave people an excuse not to take him seriously or to really hear what he was saying. I imagine it probably took a couple of hours for the merchants to reassemble their tables and get back to business and only a few minutes to decide this Jesus was dangerous or simply nuts. As frustrated as I can get with the institutional church, tearing up their office space probably wouldn?t do a lot of good.

In the end, Jesus? anger didn?t effect any change. Is it possible, if Jesus was fully human, that he could have made a mistake? Might there have been a more effective way to rouse the leaders of the temple and the moneychangers and let THEM own some of the anxiety for their own really abysmal behavior?

If Jesus could make a mistake, I actually take some comfort in that. We spend so much time in the church focusing on Jesus? transcendence that we all too often forget his humanness. I suppose a lot of people prefer the idea of a perfect Jesus as a standard that they want to live up to. But it is Jesus? humanity that makes the most difference to me. Jesus might really understand me and my trials if he was capable of making the same mistakes I have made. And yet even in his mistakes and human fallibility to be loved and prized and gifted with bringing the revelation of God? Now there is a word of comfort and peace!

Not many of us have received much help learning how to deal with anger in a really effective way?a way that helps clarify our needs and strengthen our relationships. Instead we learn to fear anger, deny it, displace it onto inappropriate targets, or turn it against ourselves. But we can unlearn these lessons and begin to use our anger to further our own sense of dignity and our growth. We can learn how to identify the true reasons for our anger and clarify where we stand. We can learn communication skills. We can learn to use anger as a powerful vehicle for creating lasting change.

There are a lot of wrongs in this world. Maybe we can practice by trying to restrict our anger to those injustices that are worth getting angry about?and maybe cut the driver in front of us or behind us a little slack. Jesus did drive the moneychangers from the temple, but even if I was weaving in traffic I just can?t imagine him flipping me off.

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