Unspeakable


I have a knack for making people unspeakably angry at me -- literally: they are so angry they cannot speak to me. Usually they are Relationshipists (pretty much everybody in the church), because it's against their religion to tell you what you need to know to prevent them from losing their self-control. It is never my intention to make anybody angry, because the Bible tells us that "Human anger never results in Godly behavior," and Jesus himself warned that temptations to sin are unavoidable, "but woe to him by whom they come." I do not need that kind of "woe" in my life.

But I have Clue Deficit Disorder. I once told a pastor that "I have a knack for making people unspeakably angry at me," and on one occasion he informed me that I was getting close. I backed off, and we got along fine. I should do that more often, but I forget. Some people know their own limits and let me know if I overstep. I think it's great. Most people in the church cannot do that. Everybody suffers. More important, the Church suffers, because expecting people like me to know and behave this way is a sure way to drive men from the church (see my review of Murrow's Why Men Hate Going to Church).

In at least one case, I don't think that happened. I have no idea why he got unspeakably angry and hateful (it's unspeakable). My current working hypothesis is that he's jealous. He's a bachelor, and before I came to his church the kitchen matron would send home with him the leftovers from potlucks and church breakfasts. Then I showed up and casually volunteered to rescue any that would otherwise be wasted, so she started dividing them between the two of us. Maybe he resents the loss of food he did not need to prepare. It sounds like a joke, but as a metaphor it's quite reasonable...

The guy has no formal theological education that I can detect, he's basically self-taught from reading commentaries and "word studies." Word studies were popular when I was in high school -- I still have four by Kenneth Wuest (his name is pronounced "weest") boxed up in my library, where I have not looked at them in decades. So this guy's preaching style consists in sitting on a stool up front, and reading off these lists of Greek words found in the verse he is preaching from, and then (perhaps Wuest's own) lists of corresponding English words. Then this geezer shows up, old enough to be his father, and he doesn't even carry an English Bible to church, just Greek and Hebrew. Long ago I had one pastor point to my Greek New Testament and tell another church member "That Red Book" strikes terror in the heart of every pastor when he sees it in a parishoner's hand." That pastor actually did his sermon preparation from the Greek text and later went on to teach at the denominational seminary, he had nothing to fear. But pity the poor guy with no training who must share not only his potluck leftovers, but also his congregation's approval with this upstart. Yeah, that must be it. With such a petty grievance driving his draconian behavior, no wonder he's ashamed to tell anybody, not even me (I asked). Getting lawyered up like he did is like sending certified mail: somebody is very wrong. The charitable Christian thing to do is to inform the wrongdoer of his fault so he can repent, but he seems to be unspeakable. That makes it his problem, not mine.

Me, I like to think that there are no stupid people -- except those who fried their brains on drugs -- that everybody is born with the same number of brain cells, but they get wired up differently by their choices and by things that happen to them. They are still reasonably logical, but some (perhaps most) people have developed coping strategies that worked in particular situations in the past, and they are unwilling or unable to make the effort to see how the situation today differs from when those strategies worked in the past. Anger is one of those strategies. Almost everybody in the church is a Feeler, and Feelers crave affirmation. A violent display of anger causes them to wilt, and you (sort of) win that confrontation. So the behavior is reinforced in the perpetrator. But it's unChristian. It's inappropriate. There are secular seminars that teach anger management, basically what you should have learned from the Bible (if you cared to read and obey it). Anyway, my coping strategy is to try to figure out what people want, and then work out a win-win agreement so everybody is happy with the result. But it only works with people who believe that the Golden Rule -- Jesus called it "the Second Great Commandment" and it's binding on all people everywhere (especially in Heaven, as Jesus pointed out, because it wouldn't be Heaven if there were any violators) -- people need to agree that the Golden Rule applies to them personally. Otherwise win-win isn't possible. But I keep trying. Trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a popular definition of insanity, inappropriate coping strategy. I like my insanity better than his. It doesn't win very often, not in this life, but the future is far rosier.

It's really too bad, of all the pastors in town, I thought he was the closest to what the Bible actually teaches, and I said so. I was wrong. It happens. He preached on Eph.2:10 one Sunday. Nobody preaches on Eph.2:10 in Evangelical churches, it's too close to contradicting what they want to believe of the previous two verses. I think he started out -- or maybe it was the previous week, I don't remember things like that very well -- with a long harangue against the Law of Moses, how some things are capital crimes in the Law that to us are inconsequential, while others, he specifically mentioned an ox who gores a passer-by, and the farmer gets off free. He said he knew about that one because he was a farmer, and he didn't mind getting off easy. Or something like that. Me, I knew about the ox-goring law, but I didn't remember it being so light. I couldn't find the verse in my Bible at the time (and he didn't tell us where), so I looked it up when I got home. He misquoted (or maybe remembered it badly), because the farmer only gets off free the first time his animal harms a person (it's presumed to be an accident). But if the ox is known to do harm, and somebody dies, the farmer is at fault and it's a capital crime, just as if he'd killed the person himself. I gave some thought to the place of the Law in God's word, and wrote up my finding. The Law of Moses is there to teach us (the King James uses the word "schoolmaster") about the First and Second Great Commandments that Jesus said are the foundation of Christian living, what they are all about.

So later that week, this other guy asked him to explain the Law thing, and he did not get a clear answer, so afterwards I gave him a link to my essay. The pastor was right on about the Eph.2:10 verse, but he didn't bring in Jesus and the other Pauline epistles to support it. It wasn't a message you hear in other churches (except maybe the Catholics: it's very clear in Chaucer, which was written a century before Luther invited us to stop reading at verse 9), but it was Scriptural. Perhaps the pastor didn't like my explaining his sermon more clearly than he did. Or maybe he doesn't know what he believes.

If he didn't want me explaining his sermon to others in his church, he could have simply said so. I would have stopped. But that would look bad, almost as bad as asking me to leave. While I'm in his church, my stated policy is "I will not fight a pastor in his own church." But that isn't true of him any more, is it? His choice, not mine.

"Human anger never results in Godly behavior." [James 1:20, my translation] Often anger is not even smart behavior. It's obviously not Biblical, but there's a common (secular) proverb that "Revenge is a dish best served cold" (that is, not in the heat of anger). If we Christians were half as smart as the pagans, we'd sit on our rage until it cooled off enough so that we can think clearly, and then we could look for the win-win solution that God commands and expects from all of us.

Speaking of pagans, I've been reading Chaucer, and after I wrote the paragraph(s) above, I came to "The Parson's Tale," which is mostly a sermon on repentance and The Seven Deadly Sins. As I noted elsewhere, Chaucer is astoundingly close to the true teachings of Scripture in some places, the Parson's Tale being one of them, mostly. Paragraph 33 in J.U.Nicolson's "translation" has this relevant comment on the third Mortal Sin in his treatment on Wrath:

...anger is full wicked, which comes of sullenness of heart, with malice aforethought and with wicked determination to take vengeance, and to which reason assents; and this, truly, is mortal sin... [emphasis added]

[34] ... For truly, almost all the harm that any man does to his neighbour comes from wrath. For certainly, outrageous wrath does all that the Devil orders; for it spares neither Christ nor His... Is not this a cursed vice? Yes, certainly. Alas! It takes from man his wit and his reason and all the kindly spiritual life that should guard his soul. Certainly, it takes away God's due authority, and that is man's soul and the love of his neighbour. It strives always against truth, also. It bereaves him of the peace of his heart and subverts his soul.


"Do not associate with an angry man," Solomon tells us, "lest you become like him." Right. Got it. Done.

Tom Pittman
2020 September 1+

PostScript. I told my friend, "I sold the mortgage," which happened to my home mortgage a couple decades ago when the bank I made it with turned out to be involved in the S&L scandal at the time and got their assets sold off piecemeal, so instead of automatic deduction from my local bank account, I had to remember to send in a payment coupon every month. It was awful, the only time I actually missed a payment for any account, as far back as I can remember. The point is, I owed the bank the price they paid for my house, and after they sold it, I owed it to the new mortgage holder in some other state, just like that! It happened every year or so for several years, each bank worse than the previous (never do business with Regions Bank in the Deep South someplace). It became a metaphor for dealing with unpayable debts people owe me, I sold the debt to God for the incomparable price of my salvation (a tiny part of it, anyway), so now the jerk owes it to God, not me. And God is, as the Bible reminds us, "a hard taskmaster." His problem now, not mine.

Unfortunately, as the preacher a week ago reminded us, "Living sacrifices tend to keep climbing down off the altar..."

So here I am thinking I might tell people how "I used to thank God -- if not every day, at least several times a week -- that I do not live in a place where terrorists firebomb people's churches, but I cannot do that any more. The guy didn't actually set fire to the church building, but it and the people in it is (for me) just as demolished as if he had." In reality, what happened to me is a tiny fraction of what happens to people where a significant portion of the population hide their faces in shame when they think that "killing the infidels" is more pleasing to their "Great God" than converting them (or themselves) to the True Faith, as compared to here where it's just one guy with an immature faith who cannot or does not trust a Sovereign God to take care of what he mistakenly thinks is a problem (which is basically the same error, but there's only one of him), and there are more, perhaps better, churches -- at least a half-dozen within walking distance of his. So my prayer of thanks resumes: God is still Good, and my problems are nothing like the Christians in what some wag called NAMEstan (North Africa, Middle East, and a bunch of 'stans) plus China and VietNam and North Korea.

It's not worth gnashing my teeth over. In some ways I'm better off. The sermons are more frequently relevant to where I'm at than most churches, most of my life. I still need to rebuild a new circle of friends, which always takes a year or two in a new church, but the work God gave me to do takes a lot of time, which I now have to spend on it (and I need to get back to ;-)

TP, 2020 October 5