What can a GMB possibly have to do with rage? (written at 5 a.m.)

I woke up way too early this morning from a strange dream, as I knew I would when I went to bed at 1. Whenever I go to bed in a distressed emotional state (thankfully this doesn’t happen too often) I sleep my physical tiredness off in a couple hours and then wake up right before the light starts to come, toss and turn for a while. I decided to get up and do something useful. My original idea was of something useful was studying for this huge test I have to take in about a week… but then I thought I’d elicit some words from you all instead. Still useful, right?

The dream was pretty funny, actually. I found myself forced to sit in a kind of revival-style worship service, surrounded by male friends from my hometown, kids my own age. I realized that we were all gay (in my dream), and that this was a service to try to convert us (to holiness and heterosexuality, I guess) The service built to a kind of altar call. A line of young men (who I recognized as older boys from my hometown) were marched in to surround us “sinners” and all assumed a kneeling position of prayer – they were to serve as beacons of virility and heterosexuality and virtue while we responded to the call. Defiantly, I got up and tried to make my way to their line and assume their same posture, to show that they had no exclusive claim on prayer or virtue. One of them got angry and pointed me back to my seat. There, still defiant, I again tried to assume their same kneeling prayer posture. It was very awkward to do on the edge of my chair, and I wasn’t sure I was getting the arms quite right, and I worried that I looked really fairy-ish doing it and that it wasn’t really helping my cause.

This is all related to the draft of a book that I received yesterday. I submitted one of the chapters to it. It’s a compendium of writing about the gay issue in the Mennonite church, with writers from a great variety of perspectives being published here. It should be pretty decent and interesting book (I’ve just leafed through it so far), if you care about the church’s conversation (or lack of) on the issue. My deal is that I’m struck and surprised by the force of emotions that hits me when I really re-engage with the institutional church and its representative voices on these issues. I think I’m just beginning to comprehend how deep currents of something like rage still run in me. My instinct is always toward reconciliation, valuing everyone’s individual story, speaking calmly and warmly to those on the other side of the issue, not letting it divide us, being a peacemaker, etc. Nonviolent principles, generally. I think they’ve born some good fruit through the time I’ve tried to engage things in this way.

And yet here I am again waking up at 5 a.m. with rage dreams when I’m forced to truly encounter the real voices of exclusion in the church… in the case of this book, a group of middle-aged (and older) straight men pontificating on this “issue” and how to deal with “them.” But of course – they’re just calling to mind powerful forces from my past. My anger really isn’t about the exclusion of me now as an adult, but about all the violence that was directed against my child-self and my fragile adolescent self when I was completely open and vulnerable to everything the church had to say. I feel (maybe? it’s my metaphor, anyway) like someone who’s been physically abused forced to put her story up beside the abuser, who’s still mouthing off the exact same words he’s always said, and the words are still entirely about HIMSELF.

Whew. So, my problem is that a large part of me is still trained by being a good Mennonite boy (that’s a GMB) when it comes to such things. And I guess Mennonite boys just suppress their anger – at least that’s what this one has always done. How can such anger ever find its place in the world/life? What is its purpose (assuming that all things are meant to work for good if used in the proper way)? It seems like such a force for violence, for destruction, for breaking relationships. I believe in nonviolence, reconciliation, and relationship-building – and pragmatically consider them the most effective strategies for change. I don’t want to direct anger at individual people and cause them pain or harm. Yet – it’s the voices of individual people who collectively (and mostly unconsciously) create the abusive force that I rage against.

I want to know if anyone else has had such rage/anger in their lives, and how they learned to make it a part of themselves, despite the GMK training. I don’t want to be split in two (that was kind of the whole point of coming out in the first place), and I’m afraid that suppressing it is just a way of disengaging from the issue rather than working toward anything positive. What does someone who believes in nonviolence do with rage?

Comments (16)

  1. jdaniel

    Ahh yes, another beautiful day in the library. Be glad that you’re near the end of your studying – I’ve only begun really.

    Anyway, have you read Walter Wink’s book Engaging the Powers (Fortress 1994)? In one of the later chapters he talks about coming to grips with his own violence and part of that was through looking at the content of some of his dreams over a period of time. I don’t have all the details straight, but perhaps when I’m home near a copy of the book I can see if there are any good quotes or things I’m forgetting.

    On a more personal note, I’ve known myself to have some anger lurking below the surface for some time now. I used to be able to let it out on the farm (where I grew up); there was hardly anyone around there. I don’t think I really ever had anything all that serious to be angry about then, but now since I’m around people a whole lot more, I’ve repressed my temper a lot. Occasionally my anger will come out while driving (not a good idea) – either when I screw up and make a wrong turn, or when someone else is driving like an idiot around me. This anger is mostly related to being impatient with myself and others.

    Sometimes, and I feel more justified in this anger, I’ll feel it boil up inside me when I think/hear/read about injustice/abuse/corruption occurring today by someone with power. Although I think it’s right (healthy) to be angry about those things, I have to ask myself – what is it that makes me so angry about it? Am I looking for a scapegoat – someone to pin the blame to? Is it a defensive self-righteous anger?

    I also remember from time to time getting pretty angry at my dad over the past year or so. We’ve had numerous discussions and arguments about my brother’s decision to be more openly gay (i.e. to not be married to my sister-in-law anymore – a long and generally very positive story of a journey from being gay but married to openly gay). I was angry that “calling sin sin” was more important than listening to and loving (or making his love apparent to) his son. I was also angry because I felt his approval of me slipping to some extent as the differences in our beliefs were being exposed. Anger/rage didn’t do much good there – it just made listening to each other that much more difficult.

    This has gotten longer than I had originally planned and, like you, I have some studying to do on this gorgeous day. Talk about something to make a person angry!

  2. TimN

    As another GMB living in the city, I recommend racquetball as a cathartic urban past time. That and the occasional protest. Preferably with chanting and songs.

    Thanks to both of you for sharing honestly about dealing with anger. I’ll mull on this one for a while before responding further.

  3. lukelm (Post author)

    Are you studying for Step 1 jdaniel? I’m taking out some anger on Qbank right now…

    Hmm… now I’m scared to play you at racquetball Tim ;) But I’ll chant and protest with you any day.

  4. jdaniel

    A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Yeah, Step 1 it is.

    Did you see the question in QBank (OL1294) that began: “A 39-year -old black man presents with complaints of anorexia, malaise, fatigue, dark urine and upper abdominal discomfort. He admits to homosexuality, [my emphasis] but denies blood transfusions, alcohol intake or intravenous drug abuse.” (The question was about the window period of acute Hep B infection).

    It’s funny, I’ve never heard of anyone “admitting” to heterosexuality. I thought physicians are supposed to be examples of tolerance and compassion (regardless of their religious and moral convictions)?

    TimN, have you ever played squash? I haven’t, but I hear it’s more of a challenge than racquetball (I’m not yet that experienced with racquetball, so it’s still a workout for me, but not for most of my opponents).

  5. lukelm (Post author)

    Ah, great. I hadn’t gotten to that gem yet. I’ll charitably chalk it up to just another way “medical-speak” can tie up some of that potential for compassion. (I suppose if he hadn’t “admitted” to it they would say “patient denies homosexuality,” which sounds kind of like the Spanish inquisition, huh?)

  6. joe

    i just spoke to 100 young people last sunday about there being no room for hate in God’s kingdom. 2 days later i saw one of the kids dad’s that left the family about 10 years ago. it was bad and screwed up his kids pretty good. i still found myself with feelings of hate. hate! i had to repent to God right there. i still dont know where that came from. taking on others offenses i suppose. felt like a hypocrite that day. i guess alot of days…

  7. lukelm (Post author)

    Yeah… I find “hate” a pretty tough word to even grapple with. There’s anger in it, but beyond anger (which I think of as more purely emotional) it involves all of one’s rational/intellectual faculties in completely rejecting its object and wishing its annihilation. And humans can always be redeemed.

  8. TimN

    Joe, I think feelings of anger and rage are something that we all deal with at one time or another. My wife trains people to work through conflict and one of the first things they talk about is the idea that conflict in itself is not wrong. I think the same thing is true of feelings of anger and rage and even hate. The key is what we do with these feelings.

    While its important to reconnect with God when we feel angry, I think its also important not to move past the feelings too quickly. If we do that we risk falling into the trap of passive aggressiveness and suppressing our anger. Instead I think Jesus invites us to look at our anger as an opportunity to look deeper at ourselves and examine the relationship or situation that brought these feelings to the surface. Charletta sometimes says that anger is an opportunity to find the wound inside ourselves.

    Hate has no place in God’s kingdom, but getting rid of it isn’t easy. Most especially when we find it in ourselves.

  9. joe

    true tim. and i do tend to be somewhat passive aggressive. i wonder just now, if that wasnt some sort of divine appointment for God to shake me up a little and deal with myself. i hadnt seen that guy in 10 years and 2 days after talking…bam. i am going to go rake up grass and think about that for a while.

  10. lukelm (Post author)

    I received the following passage in response to these thoughts and I thought it fit well into this discussion. It’s from “The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege” by Robert Jensen.

    “Here’s what I think white people need emotionally: Less fear, less abstract guilt, more anger. Less fear of ourselves and more risk-taking. Less guilt about things we didn’t do or can’t change and more action about the things we did and can change. More righteous anger. Not self-righteousness, but righteous anger rooted in a commitment to justice, the kind of anger that helps us shed our fears and let go of our unproductive guilt. The kind of anger that can help us find our place and our voice in social movements seeking justice. The kind of anger that comes from desperation when we realize how powerful an oppressive system is, how deep are the injuries it causes, how destructive it is to everyone’s lives including the privileged. The older I get, the angrier I get. People keep telling me that I need to mellow out, find a way to deal with my anger. I have a way to deal with it: I let it out, strategically (I hope).”

  11. Jason

    Thanks for including that excerpt, it speaks to the way I’d like to be oriented but often struggle to live up to. I’ve just moved to a new setting (back to Goshen for the summer actually) and am trying to figure out how righteous anger fits in these new social circles (some churchy, some otherwise).

    Specifically, it’s easier for me to be complacent about homophobia, racism, sexism and the like when I let myself forget the way these diminish me too. I may have missed some earlier posts related to this, but do any of you all have insights to share about the way oppression diminishes your daily life, church life, or congregation?

  12. carl

    Great post. I’ve noticed the same thing in myself about dreams. It hasn’t happened real recently, but I’ll occasionally have dreams where I’m shocked (on waking) by the raw physical violence I used to deal with a scary or enraging situation in the dream. And I don’t know either to what extent that reflects unhealthy anger-stuffing, and to what extent dreams are perhaps a good place for violent urges to vent. I love the Jensen quote.

    Jason: I think that’s a critical question for privileged people to reflect on (how oppression diminishes our lives). I won’t even try to touch on all the areas you mentioned, but one that’s been a big part of my experience living here at Pine Ridge is how oppression just makes it so damn HARD to build real friendships across the gap. There are so many ways it can go wrong, and the path to mutual trust is narrow and treacherous.

    If I enter into relationship blithely unaware of my privilege, I force the other to choose between the hard work of educating me in areas where I may have major denial or the hard work of stuffing their real experience of oppression where it won’t surface to bother me.

    If I am aware of my privilege, I have to navigate the pitfalls of excessive guilt leading to stiffness, awkwardness, and paralysis, or of the relationship primarily becoming about “my issues”, or a host of other things.

    Trust in the relationship can be so easily held hostage to the other person wondering “is this guy just here because he feels sorry for me?” or me wondering “is this person just here because they’re hoping to get something from me?” As long as the external situation of power imbalance / oppression remains, I don’t think these dynamics can ever totally go away in a friendship.

    I know from personal experience how agonizing this is, so I know the temptation (from the privileged side) to throw it all out as “paralysis by analysis” or “making love too complicated”. But wishing doesn’t make it go away. The complexity and difficulty are real.

    I hope this hasn’t taken a good thread too far off track!

  13. Rich

    Gene Stoltzfus (founding director of Christian Peacemaker Teams) talked about his discovery (coming from GM-Ohio-farmB) that anger was a gift, not a sin. “Anger is energy,” he said, “and we need that energy in order to accomplish work that we are called to do. My anger has been God’s gift to me to enable me to do some things . . .”
    Doesn’t give all the answers, but I think it points out a good direction — a direction away from guilt over anger, toward making good use of it.

  14. Dwayne Hess

    I know I’m joining this discussion a bit late. I’m the gay brother jdaniel mentions in his May 23rd post, and I wanted to express gratitude to lukelm for giving voice to this important topic.

    Coming to terms with being gay has been very emotional for me. I also grew up as a GMB. It’s extremely interesting– the feeling I get when I think about the fact that I am no longer welcome in my home church because I have accepted myself more fully for who I am. angry, sad, incredulous?

    still– i’m grateful and overwhelmed for this chance to be more authentic.

  15. Skylark

    Hi Dwayne! Welcome to YAR. I’m glad you decided to stop in, and I hope you continue to find this place interesting.

    Have you found a church where you can fellowship without fear? How has your view of Mennonites or Christians in general changed through your experiences?

  16. lukelm (Post author)

    Hey Dwayne,
    Thanks for the good words. A lot of my sadness, anger, incredulity comes from the fact that I feel like I used the very tools and lessons that were taught to me in church to figure out the truth of the gay thing: forgiveness of self and others, acceptance of God’s will (vs. my own plans), love for creation, etc. Then – wham! – I’ve been randomly selected to be discarded.

    Hey, you should check out the new BMC blog at:
    We hope to get some good discussion going on it among Brethren/Mennonite-associated young queer folks. I’ve yet to post on it, actually, because I just got back from a nice trip (involving Rome and Paris) but hopefully it will be getting more lively pretty soon.

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