Saturday 28 June 2008

Anger, Anger and Rage

Another life story about how I got sideswiped into dealing with my issues.

I have a whole section in my dissertation about anger and the Christian god. I suspect that it is probably the hardest part of therapy with which the therapist to deal. I would say that this is particularly true for pastoral counselors who seem to want to get through the anger part really, really fast. This is based on my own experience and the stories told me by many of the people I counseled with "god issues". It is also based on the feedback that I get on the Psalm of Anger. I gave it to one student who was having great difficulties finishing a paper and she gave me some of the story of her life while we were discussing the paper. She sat in my office and read it and just looked at me: "I didn't think anyone else felt that way" was her response. It was like a load was lifted off her mind. We are just not allowed to get angry at our loving god.
I once delivered a paper called "God isn't like that or is he?..." The title echoes what I heard, and what many people with childhood sexual abuse as part of their life story have heard from therapists, counselors, psychiatrists - if they are even willing to discuss the topic. Growing up as Christians, we are not supposed to get angry at God, after all he loves us, he only wants the best for us - essentially we are told that it isn't God's fault, that we grew up with a "distorted" image of God. In other words, it is our fault if we have this distorted screwed up view of a God who controls everything, who is all powerful, who counts the hairs on our heads, who cares about us just as he cares about the lilies in the field, who punishes when we "do wrong" or sin, who loves us when we "do right".

All of that is in the Psalm of Anger. It's not my story, the way that the Eulogy is. I was doing some work for the Church Council on Justice and Corrections and was asked if I would be a consultant at a weekend retreat on domestic violence for Christian leadership. I was also asked if I would prepare a Psalm of Anger for the final worship service. I said, of course, and thought little about it at the time. I went home that night and couldn't sleep. Finally, I got up out of bed and sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote pages of vitriolic anger at my god (once more, a god I didn't believe in). Needless to say, I saw my therapist the next day. He read it and, as is his wont at times,, his first comment was rather understated "you were really angry". I then raged some more and talked about it. The hardest part is trying to explain that I don't give a shit what "god was really like" - this is what my god was like and this is what my god did to me. He let me down, he was the one who should have made sure that this didn't happen to me. And because I believed what the Bible said (I had read the whole thing), and what the adults said and what the ministers said, I was fully justified in believing that he should take care of me - he promised!!! And because I believed, then it truly must have been my fault. I must have done something truly terrible for god to let that priest try to destroy me.

That rage had been buried for decades. Once it was spent, I was able to turn the pages of rage into the Psalm of Anger and broadened it so that it was not just reflective of my experience. Then I read it at the final worship service of a very difficult weekend on a fine Sunday morning in May. It was my first real experience with what was to become a norm when I discuss any aspect of my dissertation. Almost nobody talked to me after the service - dead silence. However, I did sit with my fellow United Church people at lunch. The one truly encouraging comment came from a United Church minister just as I was getting in my car. He called me Black Irish and told me to keep it up. (For those who want a quick idea of what being "Black Irish" means, you need to read the Nuala Anne McGrail series of novels by Andrew Greeley. In short, it means gifted with the "second sight" and yes, Redmond is as Irish [Wexford County] as they come.)
I think that my greatest fear was that if I ever let the rage out, I would kill somebody. There is that old truth that feelings are not "bad", it is what you do with those feelings that can be good or bad. One of the aftermaths of my rage at God was that I was free to vent my rage at the priest, albeit only in my dreams. I dreamt one night that I had a machine gun and I kept killing wave after wave of Roman Catholic priests. It was definitely cathartic.

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