Today I talked about one of the hardest subjects in the Korean-American church: reconciliation. It is difficult because we don’t have a very good theology of anger. Countless times I have heard “don’t be angry” or some variant that it is wrong to be angry as a Christian. Well such a posture emasculates our humanness and makes us into unfeeling, repressed, and disconnected people with our own emotions. Then the other extreme. Once we find our voice, we exercise it with such vehemence that we express ourselves awkwardly, saying things that we can’t take back and the result is church schism. I illustrated this volatility in the following diagram:
The tendency to counter-balance is our problem here. The more tightly-wound up we are on the one side, the more likely we are to express ourselves violently on the other (either violence to others as illustrated through the recent Aurora massacre) or the self-violence of repression (“stuffing it”). It is no wonder that we have such drastic extremes in asian culture, stemming from a misunderstanding of how to regulate emotion as opposed to repressing it; and no wonder there are so many awkward angryasianmen out there today because for years we’ve been bottling it up and now all of a sudden we’ve found our voice – and it is screechy at best (Thielicke).
1. NAME IT – is where we Asian-Americans need to begin. The inability to do this sabotages every attempt at the 2nd and 3rd steps. Jeremiah 17:9 says “the heart is more deceitful than all else”; don’t you dare convince yourself that you are not feeling anything and you are fine, if indeed you are suffering from something – anger, conflict, frustration.
2. REGULATE IT – which emphatically is NOT the same as repressing it; rather it is controlling your reactivity. Proverbs 15:1 is the consummate verse bespeaking our maintaining a non-reactive presence: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” We have the power in our hands to regulate a negative, conflict-ridden environment plagued by reactivity among its members: by regulating our own reactivity. A wise response can lower the heat in the room by several degrees. I think I said it in my talk too, referring to a recent basketball incident: “don’t play down to a punk; keep your dignity, poise and calmness and everyone else will play up to your game.”
3. ABSORB IT – I first heard Tim Keller use this word – and I thought he was out of his mind. What the? Absorb it? How is that supposed to make sense? That sounds like repression! (I was well on my way to the other side of the pendulum at that time, practicing my screechy angry asian man voice) but as I get older and hopefully wiser – I see it. Absorption is the only way to deal with sin in a system, after you have walked the appropriate steps of NAMING it, and REGULATING it first. In the end, with nowhere else to go, the sin is absorbed by us and we become little Christs, atoned for and atoning for the sins of others. Mind you, the burden of other’s sin should never rest in our laps for very long; it is like scooping up fire momentarily – it must be passed onto Christ quickly because we were not meant to atone finally for the sins of all – but in the process our hands will get singed.
But my, the benefits. Because in the end, when we have NAMED anger, REGULATED our own reactivity in response to it, and ABSORBed it (with nowhere else to go) we become stronger, less reactive individuals; we WIN and have not played down to the devil’s game of revenge, reactivity, and volatility, punk that he is.
There is a quote by MLK Jr. that remarkably echoes these sentiments of naming sin but not reacting to it, of growing stronger in the process, of absorbing and gaining a greater capacity to suffer, and in the end WINNING not only over ourselves but over our “enemies” in the process:
When one rises to love on this level, he loves every man. He rises to the point of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I believe that this is the kind of love that can carry us through this period of transition. This is what we’ve tried to teach through this nonviolent discipline. So in many instances, we have been able to stand before the most violent opponents and say in substance, we will meet your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is just as much moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes and our churches and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.