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From Anger to Zion: An Alphabet of Faith

From Anger to Zion: An Alphabet of Faith

by Porter Taylor


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Anger, judgment, forgiveness, wisdom. All of these and more are biblical words we've used so often that they have very little meaning for us anymore. For others--seekers and those who are coming to church for the first time--these words sound like jargon. They are words that divide new church members from those who have been there a lifetime. In From Anger to Zion, Porter Taylor reflects on an alphabet of biblical words in ways that will help newcomers understand and speak the language, and that will encourage those familiar with these words to rethink them. A wonderful storyteller and writer, Taylor's essays, each based on a biblical text, take ancient words and ideas and bring them into contemporary life. Egypt of old is today's broken place in our lives-the place where, like Moses, God is most likely to call us to go. Forgiveness is explored as a way of unfreezing time; without forgiveness we cannot grow. What does Isaiah's and the Israelites' homesickness have to do with today's homeless and lost people? These beautifully written essays are wonderful devotional material, but they also can serve as material for preparing to preach or for small-group discussion within parish reading groups.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819221117
Publisher: Church Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date: 08/01/2004
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Porter Taylor has served a variety of parishes, and has a Ph.D. in literature and theology from Emory University. He is the bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina.

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From Anger to Zion

An Alphabet of Faith

By Porter Taylor

Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 2004 Porter Taylor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8192-2593-1




Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.

—Ephesians 4:26

Let's admit it. Most of the time we don't know what to do with anger—especially as Christians. We rarely applaud anger as a virtue. You don't hear people saying, "He is such a good Christian because he is so angry."

No, what we usually hear is, "He is such a good Christian because he is so nice." We think being nice is a much better trait than being angry. And, for those of us who are Episcopalian, we might add "tasteful." We'll take nice and tasteful over angry any day.

But guess what? In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul explains how to live as Christians. "Nice" and "tasteful" don't make the list, but "anger" does. Paul says, "Be angry, but do not sin." No doubt the Ephesians pricked up their ears at that! Suddenly this Christianity thing took on a whole new perspective. Be angry, but do not sin.

Anger is very tricky, a double-edged sword. It can be a vice or a virtue, depending on how it is used. There is no doubt that anger is dangerous; it is so explosive that we can easily slip from righteous anger into sinful anger. Consequently, we need to be prayerful and careful with our anger. We need to pay attention to the hallmarks of righteous and sinful anger.

Sinful Anger

Anger is energy, and energy must be transferred into activity. Anger comes from our passions, but it becomes sin when it is destructive, either to others or to ourselves. Pent-up anger will either explode uncontrollably or eat away at our hearts and souls until it takes up all of our interior space. Unless and until we deal with our anger, there is no room in us for anything else. As a result, we are incapable of action. For this reason, Paul cautions us not to let the sun go down on our anger.

Once I got angry with my wife, Jo, but being the nice, tasteful person that I am, I held it in. On the inside I was boiling, but on the outside, I was "fine." In the middle of the night, I had a nightmare that I was being suffocated, and to free myself from my attacker I screamed, "Get off of me!" and crashed my elbow into Jo's ribs. That was a hint that anger doesn't magically disappear; it will come out one way or another, and unless it's channeled constructively, it will almost certainly burst out destructively.

Thus, Paul also reminds us "we are members of one another." When we lash out at another, we do injury not only to that person but to ourselves as well. Whether we are angry at another over a truly unjust act or simply out of a selfish need to have things our way, the great temptation is to feel superior to the other person. Our anger helps us tower over the other person and, like Zeus, send down our thunderbolts. Venting our emotions this way may make us feel good, but it's destructive. Regardless of the cause, rage or vengeance is not righteous anger.

Righteous Anger

Anger is connected with our values: we only get angry about things we care about. I don't trust anyone who never gets angry, because that person has no passions. Who would just shrug off seeing two men push an elderly lady down to steal her purse? We get angry when we see something wrong. Moses was angry when he came down Mount Sinai and saw the golden calf. Jesus was angry when he saw the moneychangers in the Temple. Jesus was even angry enough with the Pharisees and the scribes to call them names—a "brood of vipers" (Matthew 3:7).

The key to dealing well with anger is provided at the start of Ephesians 5: "Therefore be imitators of God." We are to be angry, but we are to imitate God's anger. God does get angry, but not over traffic jams or bad calls by referees. God is angry when humankind does not conform its ways to God's ways. God is angry when we do not live moral lives: when we do not do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). God gets angry because God longs for us to be our best, as individuals and as a people, but we settle for so little. Why not have a world of justice and mercy and peace? In other words, let's get angry over something worthwhile. It is when we find ourselves irate over traffic or sports that we should heed Paul's instruction to "put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice." Righteous anger is reserved for the deep sinfulness of our world and its structures that perpetuate injustice.

When we are angry over appropriate issues, our anger should imitate God's anger. When God gets angry, God enters into a dialogue (albeit a heated one) with the people. Gods says, "You have not followed my laws. You have sinned," and the people of God argue back. However, the relationship is maintained: the whole point of the dialogue is to reestablish the covenant.

God's anger always leads to a new covenant; it always serves a larger purpose. Even the flood in Genesis—an example of God's anger at its most extreme—led to reconciliation between God and humankind. God was so angry with the people who would not walk in God's ways that in a fit of anger God destroyed them. However, out of this came a new and everlasting promise that God's anger would never be destructive again. The Hebrew Bible is filled with this pattern of anger/conversation/new covenant.

It is this new covenant, this disruption of the status quo, that makes anger—ours or God's—so scary. But the truth is that most of the time the status quo needs disruption. We need to be angry the way Hosea and Amos and Jeremiah and John the Baptist and Jesus were angry. We need to be angry the way Mothers Against Drunk Driving are MADD. Our anger is the force that can make our world accountable and move us to talk about how our ways fall short of God's ways. Then, when that talk is finished, we need to have the courage to reach out to the other person and establish a new covenant. We need to disrupt the status quo, and then we need to have the wisdom to make something new.

So let's not waste our time and our passion being angry over not getting our way; let's not waste our time and our passion screaming at the traffic or at soccer referees. Instead, let's think about the world God wants. When we see how far we are from that, let's be angry, but instead of sinning, let's imitate God.




Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

—Matthew 5:3

In February 1985, I went on week's retreat to a Carmelite monastery in Crestone, Colorado. The plane landed in Denver at about two in the afternoon, and I rented a car. I drove south for about an hour and then came to a roadblock: the wind was blowing so much snow across the road that it had to be closed, and the patrolman could not tell me how long the delay would be.

Patience has never been my strong suit. So, as the cars with Colorado tags lined up to wait, I whipped out my map and figured out an alternate route: back to Denver and then east and south. I would just circle the blowing snow. However, I later came to understand that there was a reason those Colorado cars waited patiently in line. I did make it to Crestone, but it was midnight and it was snowing.

Now, Crestone is a very tiny town, and at night, it was pitch black. There were no signs saying MONASTERY THIS WAY; there was no tourism office or welcome station, and they wouldn't have been open at midnight, anyway. At one point I saw a driveway that looked like it might lead to a monastery, but after two hundred yards I realized I was lost. And that it was snowing. And cold. And dark. I backed carefully out of the drive and started driving around more or less aimlessly. After a while, I turned a corner and saw a house blazing with lights. A family was sitting around the kitchen table. I went to the door and knocked, and when someone came, I said, "I'm lost. Can you help?"

Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by proclaiming: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Jesus telescopes the whole sermon into that one sentence. In fact, the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is a way of explaining that sentence. To be "blessed" is to be "happy" or "fortunate."

In Luke's version of the sermon, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor" and then follows with "Woe to the rich." But Matthew's version is different. According to Matthew, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." What does that mean?

We need to distinguish between the spiritually poor and the poor in spirit. The spiritually poor are those who are stuck in a place cut off from God and grace. To be spiritually poor is to have "poor, narrow thoughts, starved hopes ... a hard, loveless heart, a life without a vision of God, and without peace." There is nothing happy or fortunate or blessed about being spiritually poor.

To be spiritually poor is to be alone, and that is one way of being in hell. The life of the spiritually poor becomes completely self-referential: whatever they do, whatever they say, it's always, "Me, me, me, me." There is so much "me" that there is no room for the Spirit. As a wise woman once said to me, "People can't get enough of what they don't need." That's the vicious cycle of being spiritually poor: I don't feel good about myself, so I inflate my ego. That alienates more people, so I feel worse about myself, and the cycle starts all over again.

The difference between the spiritually poor and the poor in spirit is this: the poor in spirit are blessed because they know they are poor, and they know they are poor because they know they are human—made from earth, limited, and sinful. The spiritually poor are stuck and in despair, but the poor in spirit turn, in their poverty, to God, and so they have hope.

But let's face it—neither "blessed are the poor in spirit" nor any of the other beatitudes make any sense to self-sufficient America. They make no sense to the spiritually poor. Jesus is proclaiming the upside-down Good News: the last are first, losing is finding, poverty is riches, and spiritual wealth is based on need. Happy are those who know their need for God, because they will ask; and because they ask, they will receive.

"I am lost. Can you help?"

I didn't know it at the time, but asking for help is the doorway to blessedness, because the point where we meet our limitations is the place where we meet God. If we can do everything, if we can buy everything we need, if we can manufacture a life without any unpleasant events ever happening, then why do we need God?

The poor in spirit are blessed because they have no illusions about their need and can receive grace with open arms. I read once that when Carl Jung was an old man, one of his admirers asked him, "What has your pilgrimage really been?" Jung replied, "My journey has consisted of climbing down 10,000 ladders, until now, at the end of my life, I can extend the hand of friendship to this little clod of earth that I am."

To extend the hand of friendship to the little clod of earth that is each of us is to be poor in spirit and it is to be blessed, because we know we are limited but not alone. We know that our lives are not ours because we belong to God. We don't have to work everything out, we just have to participate in what God is working out. We don't have to know all the answers, we just have to say, "I'm lost, God. Can you help?"

The family in Crestone gave me directions. It turned out I had wandered to the wrong side of town. So, I retraced my steps (which always puts us on the Way), and as I turned a corner, I saw lights down the side of the mountain. I crunched through the snow and rang the bell, and when a monk opened the door, I asked, "Is this where I belong?"

He smiled and said, "Welcome. We've been waiting for you." In that moment, far from home, looking out over the snowy dark, I knew that I was blessed.


Excerpted from From Anger to Zion by Porter Taylor. Copyright © 2004 Porter Taylor. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Clean and Unclean,
Great Love,

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