Word of the Week

Good morning friends!

Today I'm wondering if you can remember the last time you were really really upset about something? Can you remember the last time you ate your feelings or just had to pout around the house for a while? To such experiences, enter our word for the week: anger.

Anger: a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.

Such of course is something that we don't like to admit aloud or at least say in polite social circles. "Me, angry? Oh no, you've got the wrong person!"

Let me tell you this: several years ago after a long season of so many things crumbling around me and so many things not going as planned, I had a friend look me in the eye over lunch one afternoon and tell me that I was angry. She said, "Can't you see it? You have gifts to give! You have love to share! But you aren't being YOU because you are so angry."

I bet you can imagine how well that went over . . . .

But after a couple of days thinking through these piercing words, I knew my friend was right, and I was so touched by her bravery in telling me the truth.

Here was the thing: my anger was all about grief.

I love what Shauna Niequist says in her latest book, I Guess I Haven't Learned That Yet about anger:

When we've experienced a great loss, often we say we're sad but what bubbles out of us like a volcano is anger: hot, volatile, explosive anger. Anger is active, powerful; it buoys us along and gives us something to do and focus and sharpen. Anger makes us feel like we are in control again, because loss at its core, loss of control, or the myth of it anyway.

Anger is not a bad emotion, contrary to what I was taught in my "How to be a nice southern woman" upbringing. Jesus after all was angry throughout the gospels. Angry at how children were mistreated. Angry about greed expressed in the temple. Angry when the most vulnerable were not protected by those who claimed to be full of "religion."

BUT when you do your deeper work with anger, you realize that it's truly your grief that needs some attention.

You are sad about other people and circumstances not being what you wanted them to be.

You might not yet be ready to be vulnerable yet about the grief that is under the anger you feel, but know when you are: God will be there waiting to cry tears with you. For to find our way out of anger space, often we have to grieve first.

May your anger be a good, good teacher this week to what lies beneath.



Portion of a Sermon preached at The Federated Church on Genesis 4:1-7

What happens to you when life doesn’t go as you expect? What do you do next?

Do you pout and cry?

Do you stuff your feelings and comfort yourself through a nightly glass of wine, a cigarette or two and your favorite fast food indulgence?

Do you explode in fit of anger?

Where we left off last week with the first family: Adam and Eve, nothing was going like they expected.

Because of the poor choices they made to trying to figure out life on their own, God ushered them out of the Garden of Eden, their only home. The Garden was a place they thought they’d walk with God for eternity. But in an instant, it was no longer theirs. What a grief! What a loss!

And in its stead, they found themselves in a place where they were in charge of providing for themselves completely. No more fertile fruit trees all year round. No more lushness everywhere. No more animals running around in a safe and protected area.

We aren’t told exactly where this was or what it looked like all we know is this: the curses they received in the garden were upon them. Adam would face hardship caring for and finding food on the land. Eve would face difficulty in childbirth.

But by time we reach chapter 4, we learn two more members have come to the first family- Cain and Abel.

Cain comes first, his name meaning “acquired” or “got.” Eve declares the glory of what has happened to her saying (in a more literal Hebrew translation), “I’ve got a man-child with the help of the Lord.”

And next comes Abel, the second born who has no identifier to go with his name. We don’t hear Eve saying anything special about his birth. How many second born children do I have in the room this morning? The second born sure do get jibbed don’t they?

As Cain and Abel grow up into full manhood, we know nothing about their childhood. Only by the time they’re grown each one seeks a different role in the family.

cain-and-abelWe are told in verse 2 that the older boy, Cain is taken by farming and the younger boy, Abel is in charge of herding the animals.

Because it is all we know about these brothers, it seems important to pay attention to, doesn’t it? And why did each do their own thing?

Was this the case because one was simply better with animals, and the other with the land?

Was this the case because with only 4 inhabitants on the earth, this family needed the “divide and conquer” approach to survive?

Was it because both brothers were constantly dueling for their Daddy’s affection and they needed to excel at something different for either to have a sense of self?

Was this the case because they couldn’t stand one another and Momma Eve took matters into her own hands saying, “I’m tired of this fighting . . . You, Abel go over there and you, Cain go that way?”

We aren’t told any of this. But it’s clear that that Cain and Abel lived their lives in a different realm from one another.

And then—the big drama happens.

Verse 3 and 4 tell us the crux of the story: “In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground,  and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard”

So from these separate lives, Cain from the fields and Abel from the animals, they bring an offering to God.

Though God ushered the first family out of their Eden sanctuary, worship of their Creator was not something far from their hearts.

The time came in their adult expressions of faith to thank God for their many blessings. And when the offering plate was passed, Cain brought some fruit and Abel brought some of the first born of his flock including the best fat.

From the outside looking in, this whole scene appears sweet doesn’t it. Wouldn’t Daddy Adam and Momma Eve be so proud of the grown young men they raised? They BOTH brought an offering to God, out of their own unique talents! What more could a parent ask for

But the thing was God was not pleased.

We are told that then that LORD had regard only for the offering of Abel who brought the first born of his flock, and not the fruit of the land brought by Cain.

Abel gives out of his best, out of what came first. Cain just gives something.

And God is not happy with Cain. God thought Cain could bring better. It sounds so harsh. But it wasn’t meant to hurt his feelings—it just was God speaking the truth.

And if you are a parent of two or you grew up in a home of two or more children, I bet you can just see this scene being played out. For when one sibling feels they are getting more praise or more attention than the other one does, oh, just watch out, huh? The space in which the two siblings occupy together is about to get ugly.

And the same was true for Cain and Abel. Cain is so mad; we are told. He can’t believe that God like the offering of his YOUNGER brother better than his!

Cain was oh so angry!

Do you remember the TV show The Incredible Hulk? I never did because I didn’t grow up in a house of brothers, but I had friends at school that absolutely loved it.

I read something this week by Pastor Keith Krell which said this: “In the Incredible Hulk, the main character was a scientist named Dr. David Banner. Banner was basically a very friendly man. But whenever he got angry, his eyes would turn green and he would be transformed into this big, green, hulking monster (played by former professional bodybuilder, Lou Ferrigno).

If you were a person in need, he would save you. But God help you if you were the one he was mad at because he would pick you up and throw you to the other side of the room like you were a rag doll. Dr. Banner didn’t like what anger did to him. In fact, the whole show is built around Dr. Banner’s desire to find a cure so this won’t happen to him anymore.

The lesson that Pastor Krell learned from The Incredible Hulk is: If you don’t learn to deal with your temper, it will turn you into a monster of a person. It can change you into someone you don’t want to be. This is what happened to Cain in Genesis 4. He had a bad temper to start with, but he didn’t deal with it..”

Anger as we’ve experience in our life too is a similar feeling, isn’t it?

Though we might not blow up like the incredible hulk does, our anger is one of the hottest emotions that we can literally feel throughout our body. It can pulse through our veins, raise our blood pressure and give us one of those out of body experiences of feeling like we’re going to pop out of our skin. It can be so all consuming so fast before we can even slow down and count to 10.

And though we might know that anger is usually not about anger as psychologists teach us—anger is about disappointment, grief and sadness below the surface, anger is often our go to emotion as it was for Cain that day.

So now that we’re here, let’s settle into the truth that is our bit of wisdom for the day about who we are as human beings: we’re angry. And it’s a great subject to dive into during Lent for it’s one of the recorded seven deadly sins in the book of Proverbs.

You and I, we’re angry people. So say it with me, “We’re angry.”

I’ve never preached a sermon about anger or heard many sermons on the topic either because I think it’s one of those identifiers about ourselves that we like to avoid.

“Who, me angry?”

And us women folk are the worst! If I sat down in a room this afternoon with a group of women across the spectrum of age, life experiences and geography and asked them what are some of their major character flaws, I doubt few if any would put anger at top of the list.

Anger is just not lady like you know. We can all boast of low self esteem or talk of problems with our weight or be known as a gossiper before we would call ourselves angry.

But, female genes or not, we are angry.

And the same is true of men. Though it might be more culturally acceptable for men to sound off, stomp out of a room, shout about what is going wrong in their lives—I rarely meet a man who tells me directly, “I have an anger problem.”

A man might say I have a temper sometimes, but no, not anger. But it doesn’t take away the problem. Over the years, I’ve had dozens of men sit in my office and tell me story after story of how they were just so disappointed about how their family, jobs or friendships turned out that they couldn’t control their outbursts any longer. And they knew it was hurting people they loved.

Oh, my friends, if we can learn any lesson from the first family, we should learn this one: we are all angry about something, if not a lot of some things.

Like Cain, when we’ve faced the deep disappointments of our lives and thought we’ve had nowhere else to go but to feel angry.

And I want to stand before you this morning and be one of the first to admit that I have struggled with anger too. A situation in my life was not going as planned and then some more.

One afternoon as we were having tea, a friend spoke a hard gospel truth to me saying, “Elizabeth, you are so angry. You are making this suffering personal. It's not. Some things in life are just hard and this is hard. Don’t let you anger cloud your ability to love. You have so much love to give.”

And I don’t know what opened my ears to hear my friend so clearly that day but I heard and I walked away from that meeting realizing that she was so very right. I was angry. And it was not God’s way. And a heart of anger cannot love. It just can’t. And in the season of waiting, there was love I had to give!

My friends, we are all angry. So just admit it. Bring it before God. Acknowledge how it is keeping you from joy!

And know that as you do, there’s grace waiting. For what was so remarkable about Cain’s story is that God did not banish him simply for expressing his feelings. No! God came to him and talked to him about it in verse 6-7. God wanted to know why he was angry and to work through it together.

The same invitation of relationship is available to us! So I ask you again, what can separate you from God’s love—the same question I’ve brought before you ever Sunday of Lent? Can sorrows or trials or disappointments keep you from God’s love? Can the anger? Absolutely not! Love is stronger in all things.

So, who are we church? We’re people who are angry.

But the good news available to us today is that our feelings, our frustration, our fears are welcome at the cross to a God who says, “You who are weary and burdened, come and find your rest with me. Give me your disappointments. And let me make them into something beautiful.”

All will be well—so let’s go of the anger.


One of my favorite children's books of all times is the Velveteen Rabbit.

But like most good children's stories, it's really not a children's story. It's a tale that has important things to say to adults trying to figure out the great question of: "How now shall we live?

The following scenario (that is one of my favorite) is a conversation between the Skin Horse, the most senior member of the children's nursery and Velveteen Rabbit about what is real:

“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'

'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.

'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'

'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'

'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”
― Margery Williams

Many of us think we are real. We think we are living an authentic life.

But, we aren't actually real because our love has cost us nothing. Or it has cost us very little.

We aren't loving till we hurt. And by this I don't mean self-destructive pain. No, I'm talking about heart wide open living.

Think about it: when is the last time you cried tears over the suffering endured by a friend?

When is the last time you prayed for someone longer than a couple of seconds?

When is the last time you picked up the phone to just tell someone "I love you" them and were thinking about them?

Being real is about laying aside selfishness. Being real is about loving extravagantly. Being real is about not being afraid to love, even if you aren't loved equally in return.

But the pain. Oh, the pain. I wish being real did not come with so much pain! But it is does.

When we love deeply, we are also hurt deeply. There is really no way around it. It can feel like--

Friends who we thought would be in our life forever no longer talk to us.

Family members that we thought would always remember our birthdays no longer send us cards.

Colleagues who we thought we would work together with gleefully for years turn on us.

But this is what being real is all about-- having your hair loved off, your eyes popped out and your protective coverings looking sort of shabby. However, in the end, according to the Skin Horse it doesn't matter. We learn as we love that being real is one of life's greatest gifts.And those who can recognize the treasure we are and are becoming will find us. Our hearts will heal eventually. And the storehouse of experiences we've gathered through life's most authentic journeys will make us better people, more loving people.

But I still hate it when my heart breaks. I really do. But, I hope that I am becoming a little more real everyday.