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5 Stages of Grief, Anger, & Psalm 137
Anger is one of Elizabeth Kugler-Ross’ 5 Stages of Grief , and as Scott Peck reminds us, grief is a part of every transition. Say, we lose our job. While adrift, we stew. “I gave the best years of my life…” In time, we move on to another career, or discover that God had a reason for it. We accept it as a blessing. Still, anger was a real stage in our transition. When someone we love dies, anger often lashes out at an innocent bystander. It is human nature to shoot the messenger. We may be excited about moving to a new neighborhood, but soon reality sets in. We may find ourselves alone, commuting further for work, and dealing with shoddy home construction. We may spend endless hours bemoaning the events and decisions that lead us to this new place. It is because Anger is a part of all transitions that the Bible retains even the final verses of Psalm 137: By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the willow tree we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy… …happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. The Bible often speaks of anger, even though acting in anger is in opposition to the lives of compassion that Jesus calls us to live. The Bible gives voice to the human experience. Psalm 137 always reminds me of the play/movie Godspell. In the scene were Jesus is about to be betrayed, the words of Psalm 137 form the lyrics and are sweetly sung — there is no anger expressed — for Jesus himself has gone all the way through the stages of his grief and come to acceptance. But for the disciples, it is a different story. When Jesus shares the last supper with his disciples, he tells them that one of them is about to betray him. On cue, Denial - stage one - hits the group. Their inability to remain awake in the garden speaks of Depression. Peter picks up a sword in Anger. Judas goes to the council chamber and returns the thirty pieces of silver in an attempt to Bargain. The disciples are us. Acceptance comes slowly. I think it is first seen at the foot of the cross, as Jesus’ mother says good bye to her son (I’m thinking here of Michelangelo’s Pieta). Life always brings us to a new place. There will always be a resurrection. The people who sang about willows and harps and being exiled to Babylon, discovered a new way of living. At some point, we all go through the five stages of grief. The thing we must remember, though, is not to get stuck. For many people, anger is a resting place, a familiar friend. Psalm 137 is about a nation. It is about a people who have lost their home and must now live in exile. It is a brutal transition. For workers in the traditional industries of our nation; coal, steel, heavy manufacturing, a similar transition is under way. Denial-depression-anger-bargaining is the mix that fossil fuels today’s social polarization and political debate. Can we hang up our harps on the willow tree and come to Acceptance? Will we be brave enough to fashion a new future?
3 Parts of every Transition
All transition has three components. It doesn’t matter if you are moving to a new location, starting a career, or exiting puberty. For general terms you could name the components: body, soul, and relationships. Attention should be paid to each one; failed transitions and broken hearts are often the product of rushing the process and failing to do one or two components well. 1) Body - This represents the physical aspect of the change. When one moves to a new location, one has to pack boxes, buy a house, sell off the old, discover new doctors, stores, etc., clean the new place, unpack boxes… Oh, well. It’s a process, best done with detailed check lists. You don’t want to forget something important, like the youngest child. It is easy to focus so completely on the demands of this component of transition, that we ignore our spiritual, emotional, and relational needs. The business mindset of project management, scheduling, and cost containment, is critical for a successful transition. Our minds tend to grasp this fact and highlight this component in orange, lose sleep over it, and then, starve the other two components of our transition. 2) Soul - All transitions bring loss. Your soul will journey through the five of the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Personal growth requires self-awareness. Being spiritually aware during transitions enables us to exit with deep emotional lessons learned. Success as a person depends upon this depth, that only radical and disturbing change can bring. Great souls grow from transition, developing integrity and remaining true to their values under stress. Doing transition intentionally helps us to manage chaos, accept our losses, and be open for the creativity inspired by the new situation. 3) Relationships - Transition forces you to redefine your role as an individual, relative to other persons and the community. You cannot be in the same exact relationship with you parents or friends after you exit puberty. Similarly, you may pack your whole family up for a move to Far Rockaway, but you won’t arrive in the same state of relationship with each other. Your kids will make new friends. Your spouse will develop other interests outside the house. Thinking about our relationships is important during transition. We will be required to make decisions that effect the body and soul of those around us. How we collaborate with them in our choices determines how we will relate with them in the future. Being able to bare our collective souls and talk about loss is often a prerequisite for exiting the transition with a higher regard for each other.
Your Next Youth Minister May Be 50
I talked with a well-trained, dependable, and highly fruitful youth pastor yesterday. Such creatures do exist. He was even the product of my own denomination (United Methodist), though now, is serving on the staff of a non-denominational church. His story speaks volumes about what needs fixed in the church and provides insight about what needs to be done to reach the next generation with the gospel. One of the great sins of the church today is to maintain a class system in which children and youth ministry is relegated to the basement. The youth pastor I interviewed had graduated from a well respected four year college and received advanced training specifically to do youth ministry. His vocational calling seems very clear. Yet, he is frequently asked about when he plans to go to seminary and become a ‘real pastor.’ When I was in my teens, the life-changing youth pastor of my home church was in her sixties. I have another colleague who has proven gifts for children’s ministry and curriculum development, yet because he is middle aged and seminary trained, his denomination has forced him to return to parish ministry. Check Youtube. Today’s popular youth evangelists are rarely young. Currently, church economics seems be driving most ministry professionals who specialize in teaching children and youth into serving large, non-denominational, box-churches. The Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc., have a habit of paying their ordained pastor first, and then scrambling to see if there is anything left over for other teaching professionals. I use the word ‘teaching’ intentionally, because no such class prejudice exists in the secular world of education. Those who graduate with teaching degrees do not have to worry about whether their specialization in elementary ed, or desire to work with the disabled, will relegate them to a dead-end career. What I observe in most main-line churches, is a downward spiral of expectations. We pay our youth workers to be young and inexperienced. Then lower our standards to keep the pace with the decline in what we offer to the next generation. Further, we have bought into a dangerous myth, that youth relate best with those who are immature. Actually, people of all ages desire authenticity, stability, and integrity in their program leaders, pastors, and teachers. A great senior pastor can’t fix the damage done to a person who misses hearing the gospel in developmentally appropriate ways as a child or youth. It is clear to me that we have a systemic problem. The values that people express do not correlate with the church’s current institutional structure. The missional outcomes that we propose, do not match the budgets and priorities that we live by. Further, we have a biblical mandate to share our faith with the next generation (Deuteronomy 6:7, Matthew 18:1-5, 10). Our repentance may have to begin by confessing the idolatry that we have surrounding the word ‘ordination.’ All trained workers in a field deserve respect. Those who share the gospel with youth and children need to be both compensated and held to higher standards. For congregations with less than 200 in average worship this will mean forming cooperative relationships with other congregations so that additional full-time staff persons can be supported. In today’s world, people move and young adults are unlikely to attend the denomination, let alone the church, of their childhood. It doesn’t hurt a local church to share the teaching of their children with other trusted congregations of the region. Rather than muddling along with ineffective children and youth leadership, churches should work together and fund a full-time missionary to the next generation. A professional person, who has had both psychological and theological training, can oversee many volunteers and develop programs in various locations. Here is a place where we urgently need to break down our old parish and denominational fences.
Which Boat is Your Church?
In San Diego there’s a boat museum with three old submarines tied to the dock. I was visiting the Russian Whisky Class submarine from the 1970s, when I noticed a beautiful sailboat tacking against the wind in the harbor. What’s the difference between these two boats? The sailboat is dealing with wind and current. It is taking risks. The Russian sub is securely fastened to the shore. It is a museum piece. I find that when I talk about the church in the postmodern world, the image of the sailboat resonates with only a few church leaders. Most pastors and lay people would prefer to have their house of worship firmly entrenched in tradition. There isn’t sufficient evangelical passion to send them out into open water. Since the 1980s, the religious undercurrent of American life has turned against weekly worship. This past week, less than 18% of the population was in worship. Further, there is a stiff wind blowing against all forms of institutional-ism and hierarchy. People have embraced the the old Marx brothers’ joke, I wouldn’t want to be a member of any organization that would have me. The gentle, Newtonian, wave theory that supported our traditional church boat is gone. In its place, relativism rules. People go to their social networks with their problems, instead of their pastor. A generation has arisen that does not know organized religion. We can respond to the postmodern world by allowing our churches to become museum pieces. The old submarines in San Diego don’t have to deal with the wind and the waves. They don’t care which way society is going. They say, “Relativism is just wrong.” If you learn to sail, you discover some interesting facts. A modern, sloop rigged, sailboat can sail very close to the wind. In fact, it sails fastest when the wind is against it. A modern sailboat can also survive a terrible storm, as long as it keeps its bow into the wind. There are very few places in this world, that a thirty-foot sailboat can’t reach. It does well on the margins, away from the shipping lines crowded with big institutional boats. Where has Jesus called us to take the gospel? I’m not campaigning to buy a boat. I’m simply pointing out that the reason so few church leaders embrace postmodern ministry is because they have the wrong image of the church in their heads. Jesus commanded his disciples to sail on a night that the wind and the waves would be against them. When they became afraid, he came to where they were, in the midst of the ever changing sea of contemporary society.