by Michele Bondy
Before I start, let me just tell you that I am a storyteller, and I never take the direct route. So, please hang in there with me. We’ll get to that righteous stuff soon enough.
To begin with, you have to understand that I came to St. David’s as a somewhat lopsided Christian looking for a couple of answers and a lot of smells and bells.
I’ve never quite understood about Jesus and the moneychangers. I figured he had just had a bad day. When I was a child, from my seven-year-old perspective I couldn’t understand why he was mad at a bunch of men whose job was to sell sacrificial animals – I mean, weren’t they doing what they were supposed to do?
Then, many years later, during an EFM class, the term usury was explained to me and I better understood the whole reason for Jesus to be mad – think currency exchange at your local Citibank counter. Not a cheap proposition.
Having been raised to believe that all anger is “bad” or unjustified, I didn’t get it when a friend would be angry on my behalf if someone had been particularly unkind or had taken advantage of me in some way. I was glad that they were getting angry because, you see, I couldn’t. After all, God would not – under any circumstance – agree that I could be mad about something. There was that thing about seventy times seven. Oh yes, and turning the other cheek. And I believed there were no exceptions for me.
So, it’s taken me the better part of 50 years to understand that I had a rather skewed understanding about the idea of anger and that some anger really is justified.
First I had to get comfortable with the concept that God likes me. Just plain old, every day likes me. I found that pretty hard to believe. Then, I had to step it up a notch and accept the idea that God loves me. (“Who me?”) Surely I was among the most unlovable creatures on the planet. Surely I was God’s trial attempt or even the only mistake in God’s entire lifetime. The reason I couldn’t get angry was that God was already doubtful about my worth – of this I was certain. I had enormous doubts about my worth. So if I didn’t believe it, God didn’t believe it for sure.
Coming to understand and truly believe that I have worth, as a human being –regardless of my perceived failings in marriage, employment, proper stewardship – has been a journey of several years. These have been some of the hardest years I have spent and I am just now getting comfortable with the idea that God does not hate me or have it in for me. Even so, that idea of seeing myself as worthy has been challenging. In my opinion, when we go to change a deeply rooted belief there are only two things that seem to work. One is what I call the rote memory way – you repeat it to yourself ceaselessly for a period of time and your brain begins to believe it. The other way is to get down on your knees and beg to be transformed into that person God believes you are.
Perhaps you think that’s melodramatic. I do, too. But I tried the rote way and it wasn’t working, so I dialed up God and explained that if this was that important… Well, you know the rest – God was going to have to change my heart, my beliefs, my outlook, my whole worldview.
So, as they say, be careful what you pray for…because I didn’t realize that changing my whole worldview really meant my whole worldview.
Time has rocked along since this stunning revelation that I am worthy. I don’t think I have yet to really believe this consistently for even two years. Transformation comes slowly for me because when it comes to matters of the heart, I am an exceedingly slow learner.
Despite all the transformation, I learned about righteous anger only a few weeks ago. And, to be perfectly clear, I did not wake up one morning and say, “God, I’ve been thinking about those moneychangers. Maybe you need to explain more to me about that righteous anger.” As a matter of fact, when I got up one morning and got ready to go to the farmer’s market with my sister Kerry, righteous anger wasn’t even on my mind.
At this moment I want to interject the disclaimers that 1) I believe everyone’s faith journey is different, 2) my sister and I are exactly where we are supposed to be in our journeys at any given moment, and 3) I have changed my sister’s name here because this is not just about my journey and I want to respect her privacy.
I picked Kerry up and as we drove down her street I was talking to her about our mother and how busy I had been the past few days, so I was tired. She asked me what made me so busy and I responded that caregiving was an almost full-time job. (I look after my fairly independent mother when I am not beating the pavement for a permanent job.)
My sister turned in her seat and said in the most incredulous voice, “Caregiver? You are not a caregiver! You don’t even know what a caregiver is! I’ll show you caregiving – come see some of the people I work with! You have absolutely no idea!” (Kerry is a nurse and an administrator in a hospice organization.)
I am quite sure I was beet red. I am fairly sure I shrank about two inches in 30 seconds. I was completely shocked by her response because it was so vicious. But I reminded myself that my sister’s verbal ability to cow me into a corner is quite legendary. And she has a very clever way of dancing away from the damage she creates to someone’s sense of worth.
I am a person who has to really think out how I feel about situations like these. I don’t always know immediately. I remember thinking I should turn my car around and take her back home. But, I didn’t. “Don’t rock the boat,” is a family motto.
Our trip to the farmer’s market was blessedly short and after I dropped her off, I was left feeling like I really didn’t get just how unimportant I really am. I was shrinking.
I looked down at that little me…sliding further and further down towards my shoes. I thought how in the space of about 45 seconds Kerry’s outburst had made me feel unworthy, grandiose in my self-naming, and as if in my jobless state I truly was doing nothing valuable – even looking after my mother was just me taking up space on the planet.
Remember that transformation I asked for? Oh yeah. That.
Inside my head this really ferocious voice screamed, “How dare you? How dare you speak to me that way? I have value and a purpose in this world.”
I thought perhaps I should stop the car and look and see who was shouting at me from the back seat.
But I knew I wouldn’t see God if I turned around. She was in that rush of the Spirit that filled my head. The one that said to me, “No one can take away your worth or value. No one has the right to be disrespectful of your contributions as a human being or for the dignity you work to uphold in your mother. Stand up for yourself. Refuse to take this from Kerry or anyone else. You were made for more than this.”
I heard myself say, “Really? I mean I can really be angry about this? It’s not a bad thing? I mean that’s just how she is, after all.” But what I heard back was, “This isn’t about how she is or isn’t. It’s about who and what you are – valuable, worthy, thoughtful, kind. I gave you all of that…knitted that into the fabric of your being. But you have to steward it. That’s your responsibility to yourself and to your creator.”
By that point I really was sure there was a white dove on the back seat, but I just rolled down the window and yelled really loudly, “You cannot disrespect me that way. I have value and worth in this world. You are not allowed to speak to me in that manner ever again!”
You probably want to know if I confronted Kerry. In a word, yes.
But more importantly, I learned that righteous anger has a place in the life of a Christian. Particularly when it’s absence damages or destroys the perfect balance God gave us in our earliest moments of humanness. And I am convicted that God expects us to love what God has made – beginning with ourselves.