Anger is Increasing – but why?

This morning, my dog and I crossed the road at a four-way stop crosswalk. There were cars at all four corners of the intersection. I waited until all four who had been waiting went and then I started across. It was 7:50, which probably meant some of the drivers waiting for me were almost late for work. That’s the setup for a situation you have already guessed at.

I was halfway across, when the driver right beside me honked the horn. Neither I or my dog was going slowly. As that happened, the car opposite just screeched her tires and ran through, missing me by about four feet. Inexplicably, she gave me the finger.

Yesterday, the Interstate by my house was closed for several hours. At 4 am two men had an incident of road rage. They stopped by the side of the road to argue some more. One of the men beat the other to death with a blunt instrument. Then he walked away from it and while he walked up the freeway, he was hit and killed by a car going by.

Another friend barely escaped an incident in Portland two weeks ago when white supremacists and anti-fascist groups were protesting *something* and my friend came out of a brunch engagement into the middle of it. She told me she had never seen anger like that.

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the abominable show of anger and vitriol at Charlottesville, Virginia. Who can get those angry images out of the head?

In the January 5, 2016 issue of Time Magazine, one of the editorials had the title “Why Are Americans So Angry About Everything”. This was two and a half years ago, and they reported that every year for the past decade, people in this country have gotten angrier than the year before. They presented some fairly plausible reasons for this surge of indignation, but they proposed no real solution.

Since I seem to have a regular front row seat for other people’s anger, I am curious as to the reasons myself. Is it the same as it has always been? Perhaps. But I think our obsession with telling the rest of the world our opinion and the means to truly get it out to everyone (television and Internet) has coalesced together into a firestorm of anger.

For the spiritual woman or man, this anger feels like a degenerative disease. Though we have to admit that few things change without someone getting angry, the anger of Today does not seem constructive in any shape. Destruction exists at the core of most anger these days.

What is fueling it? There are many reasons, maybe as many as there are people. But there are some psychological trends which show up a lot.

1. Entitlement. Nothing fuels anger quicker than that sense you are not getting treated the way you are entitled. If someone cuts you off in traffic, doesn’t represent you in government, doesn’t give you a raise, won’t listen to you, this brings out that sense of indignation.

2. Deficit. We do not like to feel we are falling behind others on no account of our own. We do not want to hear the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. This sense of deficit I believe is what caused the person to honk their horn at me and the woman to almost run me down. I had let four cars go before walking through–but I had made them wait. Abraham Lincoln was asked one time why his boys were fighting. “They have this world’s disease” he answered. “I have three cookies and they both want two.”

3. Threatened. Many times, anger is fueled by fear. We are afraid and need to protect ourselves. The Amygdala in our brain is designed to respond to fear with a countering burst of angry emotion. This emotion may be what spawned the fatal road rage incident near my house. It certainly creates the attack/counter-attack scenarios associated with many public protests.

4. Status. We do not want to lose ground in life. The most common “game” interaction between humans is called the Zero Sum Game. That is, if one person is perceived to win in a situation, the other person is perceived to have lost. Because so much of American culture is built around the Zero Sum Game, we don’t even see it any more. We no longer see the Cooperative Principle which states “unless we all win, we all lose”. When we believe we are losing in any relationship, our natural reaction is anger.

5. Intimidation. Building on the concepts of Status and Entitlement, the idea that only the strongest survive also fuels our anger. From the child who throws a tantrum even before entering the grocery store, to the gang member who brandishes his weapon the first time he meets a new gang member, many people feel the need to stake out their territory before it is taken from them or challenged. The best way to indicate this is anger. It is our way of saying to someone, “be wary, I’m watching your every move”.

You may be able to see that all of these are incompatible with the life lived following Jesus. He cared nothing for Status. He could have intimidated others, but instead washed their feet. He felt no need to threaten anyone, and even when he could have called down angels from heaven, he refused to. He warned his disciples to ignore the deficit they felt inside toward each other and to serve each other instead. And he did not feel he was entitled to hold onto his status as God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.

As goes the Master, so go the servants.

It is time we looked at our anger to see if we are being angry in a godly way. “Be angry and sin not” the book of Ephesians says.

Is that your anger?

Fast Food Doctrines of 2018 – A Warning Label

Modern society has sharpened its critical focus on food with empty calories. All food and drink has calories. But not all calories are created equal. Some calories benefit our bodies. Some food has calories which only contribute to obesity and illness.

I’ll let y’all figure out which foods go in which category. I’m just using that as an analogy.

Though some fast food chains are trying to make their food more healthy and wholesome, few people believe they’ve accomplished it. Food which has many calories and few healthy elements is often desirable from a taste point of view, but bad for our health.

There are certain doctrines which are like that. They appeal to many people, but actually are harmful to spiritual health and growth. Every generation has doctrines like these, so we should never be surprised to discover them. Hebrews 13:9 has a name for them. It calls them “strange doctrines”. The word means “foreign” in the sense of “something imported”. There are doctrines which come at us like exotic, tasty food. They are not really part of clear historical doctrine, but at first bite they taste so good.

But are they good for us?

I have identified three current teachings in our day which fall into this category of Fast Food Doctrine. For each of these I will simply identify the following features:

1. The Doctrine

2. Why people like it

3. What is wrong with it

4. What you can replace it with that “tastes” similar but is better for you.

One qualifier and explanation before beginning. Most of us, myself included, are not professional theologians. I consider a professional theologian to be someone who has studied, been mentored in, been examined in, and has published in the arena of Theological disciplines. For the most part, the true Theologian should have at least a Masters Degree in Theology. Most of today’s professional theologians have both a doctorate in Theology and have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

I can hear someone saying “anyone who studies the Bible is a theologian.” I call that viewpoint “Credential Bleeding”. It results from diminishing the minimum requirements needed for someone to be considered professional at a task.

It is like someone looking up a medical condition on WebMD and considering themselves as well-informed on it as a doctor. It is like saying that anyone who has ever talked about their faith with someone is a missionary.

When you broaden a definition, you water it down so it means nothing.

I have a Bachelors degree in Theology. I have written papers on theological topics. I read and study theology regularly. Yet I’m nothing more than an amateur. Many pastors are the same. John McArthur, John Piper, Rick Warren, Francis Chan, Bill Johnson, T. D. Jakes, Jack Hayford, are all experienced pastors. They all have opinions on theological topics. In the case of John Piper, he even has a doctorate. But none of them qualify as a professional theologian.

The professionals–such as N. T. Wright, Marg Mowcsko, Alastair McGrath, Douglas Moo, Sarah Cokely, Grace Kim, Michael Horton, Roger Olson, etc.–are not as well known as the pastors. Yet, they form the foundation of knowledge, experience and learning upon which amateurs rely. Their writings give the background, credence, and historical context needed so the pastors and other more well-known Christians can speak with confidence.

Many of these theologians have identified these Fast Food Doctrines of our day. But because most people do not read theologians as much as they read pastors and bloggers, I thought I would explain how these three doctrines make Christians spiritually unhealthy.

Providential Determinism

The Doctrine: Continue reading “Fast Food Doctrines of 2018 – A Warning Label”

Aggressions Toward Women in Ministry

By Katie Richardson, Kathy Phillips, and numerous other women in ministry.

Edited by Mike Phillips

A “micro-aggression” is a term first used by Chester Pierce of Harvard to describe small but significant ways certain racial groups are treated with disdain and prejudice. Most often, it describes the treatment of African-Americans and Hispanic immigrants. But increasingly, it is used to describe behavior toward any traditionally dominated group in our society.

Recently, with recognition of the #metoo and #churchtoo movements, women chronicle how they are treated with micro-aggressions as well as the better known aggressive, violent behaviors. Victims and “casual” sufferers alike are calling attention to these subtle behaviors which attack the core of female identity and calling.

One oft-overlooked subset are those women serving in full-time pastoral positions in churches, church organizations, and church institutions (such as seminaries). Though women in general are certainly treated unfairly and badly on the whole in America, female pastors are an especially maligned group.

This article is compiled by two people with an unfortunate history concerning this subject. Kathy Phillips (the wife of the owner of this blog) served as a licensed, full-time pastoral staff in several of the same churches as Mike.

She has the same degree as Mike, and often does the same work in churches. She has served as Children’s Ministry Pastor, Assistant Pastor, Teaching Pastor, Parish Nurse, and School Director. But Mike and Kathy have been treated much differently during that time by both the men and the women of the church.

Katie has served in many capacities in churches and missionary organizations. She has served on pastoral staffs for over 20 years. She has been a pastor for middle schoolers, missionary with Youth For Christ, full-time worker with Youth With A Mission, camp director, assistant youth pastor and children’s ministry pastor, and Co-Founder of “His Heart My Voice” mission to Kenya. Katie often worked side-by-side with her husband who was paid staff. Katie also did the same amount and type of work, but was so rarely paid or received the same recognition. Indeed, her first paid position happened only after her marital separation. She currently serves at a local church as Volunteer Coordinator and Outreach Director.

Mike Phillips is the editor and compiler of this article. He is part of several organizations which support the Egalitarian biblical viewpoint, and groups where female pastors are common. He asked all of them if they had any insight into micro aggressions against female Christian workers. And if they had any insights, could they share a few stories with us.

We received well over 200 responses Continue reading “Aggressions Toward Women in Ministry”

You and Your Government

I originally posted this the month after DJT became President and several of my friends were saying that Romans 13 requires we support his Presidency and policies.

Since the Attorney General Sessions believes Romans 13 gives adequate theological backing for demanding we all agree with the laws of the land, here is a theological refutation to that.

The True Meaning and Application of Romans 13:1-2

Recently, I had a friend tell me that not only did God ordain that Donald Trump be elected, but that God always ordains every person in power, no matter who they are. And as such, we are expected to submit to all governing authorities, no matter who they are.

I asked him the inevitable question: “Do you mean a person in North Korea is to submit to Kim Jong Un?” “Yes, of course” was the answer. “Hitler?” I ventured. My friend hesitated and eventually said, “I am pretty sure. Yes.”  “How about Nebuchadnezzar, if he is telling you to bow down to a statue of himself he had made? Do you have to submit to him as well?” My friend, though not a strong Christian, knew the Bible enough to know I had set him up. He thanked me for the lunch and left the restaurant looking dazed.

I was not sorry I had done it. I am weary of explaining Romans 13:1-2 to friends, antagonists, and Calvinists. If  Romans 13:1-2 does not immediately jump into your mind, here it is in the New International Version:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

 I use the NIV here because it is rife with translation ambiguities which encourage people to jump to spurious conclusions. I believe, after we examine it closely here, we will find:

  1. We do not have to agree with or go along with all governing authorities
  2. There is a legitimate place for public protest
  3. God does not set up political leaders and endorse them
  4. We do not have to be agreeable and supportive of any political leader. We can disagree with them, stand against them, and even advocate their overthrow.

Allow me to use accepted bible interpretation techniques to show why I draw these conclusions from Romans 13:1-2

Continue reading “You and Your Government”

Embracing Reality: Part 2 of the Myth of the Wonderful marriage

There are signs and then there are SIGNS.

This final premarital counseling session was a warning about disaster looming. This is the first wedding I had ever officiated or counseled someone about, and ten minutes into our time together, the bride-to-be looked at me and said, “I don’t think we should get married. This is a mistake.”

Up until that evening, they had both expressed positive feelings about getting married. Neither had voiced any real concerns about their relationship. In this session however, she pointed out a half dozen things she didn’t like about her fiance. Most of them were minor, especially the details of his personal hygiene.

At one point we heard a siren. It was the tornado warning. We trundled down to the shelter and waited until the all-clear. When we got back to the apartment, I wondered aloud if this warning was some kind of a sign. They both smiled. I went on to convince them they just had cold feet. Both of them finally agreed that despite their misgivings they still wanted to get married.

Two weeks later, we had a beautiful and uplifting ceremony. Immediately after the reception, they left on their honeymoon for two weeks. Since this was my first wedding as officiant, I wanted to know how they were doing as soon as they got back. I called the bride and casually asked how the trip went from her perspective.

“We’re getting an annulment Pastor Mike. So, I guess you could say it wasn’t a great trip.”

I could not convince her to stay married. Neither could the groom or her mother.

About a month after she applied and received the annulment, we sat down again and she went into more detail about her reasons. Surprisingly, neither her decision to get married nor her decision to annul the marriage was made hastily. The man she had intended marrying was a good man. He lived a moral and ethical life and she really liked him.

But there were several things about him she could not abide. Each day of the honeymoon, she asked herself one question repeatedly: “Could I live with this for 50 years?” Because she answered “no” too many times, she decided not to waste his time or hers on a marriage which would not work.

I asked her to list what she found objectionable about him. They were all variations of the same three categories: approach to money, their sex life, his personal hygiene. She noticed all these things before they got married (Note: don’t judge. They wanted to know if they were sexually compatible before marriage, despite the Church’s strictures against it. That was their choice). These grievances were the basis of her telling me at the premarital session she didn’t want to get married. She apologized for heeding me and going through with it even with her doubts.

At the time, I was only recently married myself, and I didn’t know her decision may have been based upon a very faulty premise. She believed these incompatibilities were insurmountable and would bother her all their married life. I wish I could have that proverbial Time Machine and go back to give her the wisdom I have garnered through time and experience. Here’s what I would tell her:

Almost every couple on earth is incompatible. It takes several years to clear a lot of that up. Many couples are very successful at doing that; some are not.

Couples endure a great deal of pain Continue reading “Embracing Reality: Part 2 of the Myth of the Wonderful marriage”

How Husband-Points are Awarded

When I teach occasionally on marriage and the pitfalls of two people living that closely with each other, the subject of Husband Points invariably comes up. That’s because I bring the subject up, fairly often. So, in the interest of education and boredom, allow me to elucidate on this important subject that may save the life of some men and the sanity of many women.

Husband Points are similar to Airline Credit Card points except Husband Points are both acquired and spent much differently. Rather than try and define Husband Points, I will describe some example point accruals and this will help get the point across.

Examine this picture and interchange: In the picture, the boy (let’s say it is the Husband for the sake of this demonstration), will be awarded 80 Husband Points by our impartial jury (made up of men who just watched 27 Dresses for the third time and women who have returned from a wine-tasting trip).  The point breakdown goes as follows:

  • 2 points for the obvious and welcome compliment
  • 2 points for getting the girls’ attention off her looks
  • 2 points for using humor
  • 2 points for mentioning pregnancy with compassion and empathy
  • 72 points for NOT mentioning PMS, the huge zit on her chin, how she finished an entire bag of chocolates, that last visit from her successful sorority sister, the magazine she’s reading, the inaccuracy of the bathroom scale, or the name of a local gym.

Does Marriage Counseling Work?

I sat with my wife at our assigned table for the graduation reception with other students and professors of the nursing faculty. I quickly learned I was the only spouse in this group, and therefore the only “civilian” in medical terms. Graciously, they ignored me, knowing I had little to add to their discussions and plans. They spoke of going on to Masters, Doctorates and Post-doctorates, the profs trying to convince the students to continue on at the Alma Mater. I threw in a comment occasionally, content to let my wife carry the conversation .

Then she left to run an errand. At that moment, they all noticed me simultaneously. One asked what I did for a living. Since I do several things, I mentioned all of them. When I said “writer” no one responded. To academics, a writer is simply an opinionator without credentials. Then I tried “Pastor”. They smiled politely at that. None of them were interested in religious types. But when I said “counselor” they all seemed to perk up as a group. One gregarious young Master of Nursing Administration graduate piped in: “Oh you mean an MFT” (Marriage and Family Therapy). I politely told her no…I don’t do marriage counseling.

“Why not?” she summarily accused.

Not only was our table looking at me, but several members of the next table were deserting their conversations to listen in. I had a ready audience. So I plunged ahead.

“I don’t think marriage counseling works. In fact, I know it doesn’t. The statistics prove it.” I threw in that last sentence to get them all off the track. Just minutes before, they had all been saying how Statistics was their least favorite college course. I hoped they would get sidetracked on that discussion again and ignore me. No they didn’t.

One of the multi-doctorate professors said, “You’ll have to explain yourself young man”. I instantly liked her. I hadn’t been called a young man since … well, around the time I was one.

“Researchers have found” (always good to start a comment to academics with this phrase) that more people will get divorced if they go to marriage counseling than if they don’t. ”

One of the grads asked, “why do you think that is?”

“Part of the problem lies in the standard format for Marriage Counseling. Traditional three-way counseling involves two people with marriage problems meeting with a counselor they hope will have solutions. Only, that is not why they are there and that is not what happens. What happens is the two of them spend most sessions convincing the counselor they are the righteous party, the injured party or the misunderstood one. And no matter how the counselor wants to claim they don’t take sides, no human being can help believing one person over the other. ” These learned scholars and their teachers were in rapt attention (or comatose) so I took that as a sign to continue.

“The counseling continues until one of the marriage partners deduces they are being identified as the one most to blame. They then drop out and the other marriage partner goes to a few more sessions alone. After that, they usually separate.”

“So is it hopeless?” asked another prof.

“Not if you take a different approach.” My wife returned at that moment, and I decided to include all of them in on the discussion. “Can you imagine if all of you were working in a hospital and realized that a particular procedure was making patients worse instead of better. What would you do?” They discussed the options for a moment as my wife looked at me quizzically. I winked at her and remained quiet until I realized they had come to a consensus.

“We would probably seek to change the way we were doing the procedure until it worked” said the nursing prof who considered me a young man. God bless her.

“That’s what a number of counselors have done. They realized the real difficulty is that no two people have the same marriage story. Even a married couple who come to counseling have different stories about seemingly the same marriage. And for the most part, there is no way to make their stories sync with each other. It is as if they experienced a different marriage. There’s a good reason for this: they have!”

I saved my best line for last: “The truth is, marriages aren’t in trouble – People are. The best a counselor can do is work with them on the details of their story and facilitate them coming to a place of health and it will bring aspects of their marriage into a healthier place.”

We then talked a little about a subject I like to talk a lot on. Most people have hidden motives for going to a marriage counselor. Once they discover in one-on-one counseling what their hidden motives are, they usually are much  more open to solving the systemic problems in the relationship.

In the next article, I will go through the hidden motives themselves. But I was pleased to have several of the profs and students tell me at the end how glad they were to have heard what I had to say. The gregarious red-headed student even said at the end, “You’ve ruined me now…you know that.”