Homily: Making Anger Your Friend

This family friendly homily was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntingon on 10/11/15. It looks at Anger, Bullying and National Coming Out Day.

We have a dog and a cat – Lola and Toby. They’re best of friends and we often refer to them as brother and sister. But they usually have completely opposite reactions to a ton of things. Take for instance strangers. Our dog may have a few moments of growling – and some raised fur on her back – toward newcomers to our home, before acting like the stranger has been a long time friend that she’s missed forever! And when she’s on walks, you can frequently hear me say, “Lola, no, you can’t sniff every single person!”

Our cat is the opposite. If someone comes over, she evaporates into thin air. Some of you have heard me lament on Facebook that our cat has gone missing. We wind up walking the neighborhood for hours trying to find her after exhausting all hidden corners in the house. We are completely sure she got out. We finally figured out what was happening. Toby, our cat, wanted to get away so badly from the strangers invading her home that she would sprint up to the second floor of the house, go up to the attic crawl space and then – and I swear this is true – he would open the sliding wooden door with his paw; go into the crawl space.. and I still swear this is also true – he would then proceed to close the attic door behind him. This is a sliding wooden door that we have trouble opening; but the cat can do it on his own. (My cat knows what he doesn’t like, and he knows how to handle it.)

I think we all share those reactions from time to time. When something happens that angers us, or upsets our balance, we can have moments where we growl and bristle and then let it go and come back to our normal selves. Or we can have such a strong reaction that we go hide in some corner and close the door tight – with the lights out – and pretend we’re not home. Anger can do that to us. We often talk about how anger is a bad thing; that it turns us into something, or someone, we’re not. Like the classic Hulk from the comics and movies – “Hulk Smash!” That kind of anger. But as our story earlier taught, sometimes it’s better to sit with our anger and recognize it for what it is. Then it won’t take over. But when we fight with it, or ignore it, or pretend it’s not there, we can keep acting in ways that aren’t really how we want to behave.

Feeling anger isn’t bad. It’s a feeling. We’re all entitled to feel how we’re going to feel. But it’s what we do with it that matters. Does anger turn us mean? Or does it energize us to act to fix a wrong in the world? Does the anger build up your sense of being right? Or does it bend you toward compassion for others around you? Those are the big questions to ask when you’re trying to figure out it if it’s time to let go of anger or to keep it in the room for a little while longer. And we can sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we’re acting from the good place of anger, when we’re really just being mean; but the people around us usually know the truth. So sitting with it – as the story went – learning to make it your friend, can be a great way to be honest with ourselves.

So what’s the good place of anger? Today is National Coming Out Day. It’s the day when, those of us who are LGBT, intentionally encourage and support one another to be who we are. There was a time in our country when most of us who were LGBT, pretended we weren’t. There’s definitely a bunch who still pretend, and things are still not right or fair for all of us – especially for communities of color and for transfolk – but there are a lot of ways that it is better. And the movement toward being true to who we are was a part of that change for the better. Even in our progressive denomination, the first out LGBT clergy didn’t get ordained until the 1970’s. But here I am now, with this lovely rainbow stole that this congregation made for me.

I think anger helped me to come out. I know this is true for many of us in this room – kids, youth and adults – but I was bullied as a kid and as a teen. And you don’t have to be LGBT to bullied – so this definitely applies to all of us. When it’s happening, you can often fool yourself into thinking you’re the only person that is being bullied, or you mistakingly think that it’s your fault for being bullied. Or maybe you feel shame for being beaten up, so you don’t want to tell anyone. I know that was true for me. Shame taught me to even hide it from my parents; which was so silly and tragic because they could have helped me. If you’re being bullied, please tell your parents, or your teachers, or me or Starr. We can help make it stop. No one deserves to go through that.

It didn’t really stop until I learned to make anger my friend. I stopped listening to shame, and began taking the advice of anger. It taught me to go and get help – to speak out – to be who I was, and not to let other people shame me into continuing to be their outlet for their own insecurity. So sometimes, anger is really, really important, maybe even life-saving. In religious communities like here, we’re trying to learn together how to tell the difference and how to live better from it.

I think anger also taught me how, or maybe why, to be compassionate. When you’re being beaten up – either literally or figuratively – you sometimes figure out that it probably is just as bad – when that sort of thing happens to other people. I know that might seem like an obvious thing, but we only have to turn on the news to learn that a lot of people – even or maybe especially grown ups – haven’t figured that out yet. If something hurts us, a similar thing probably hurts the people around us. I don’t think I really became compassionate because someone told me to be; I think I learned that from anger.

One of the core teachings of Unitarian Universalism is this truth. We strive to be in relationship with the people around us; to be accountable to our neighbors. Being accountable is a big word that means we’re going to be real for each other, and we’re going to be honest with one another. Sometimes that means what I said earlier, that we have to sometimes check what our intentions are. Other times that means we have to treat our neighbor with the same respect we would want for ourselves. Some of us figure that out from the start; others learn it from going through difficult times; and some never quite get it. That, that right there, is a big part of why we can make things rougher for one another. But it’s also exactly why we can make our world so much better.

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