Friday, May 6, 2011

Going beyond button pushing...

Once upon a time, I used to tell my wife that "getting angry was my way of expressing my feelings!  After all, isn't that what you women keep talking about?!  So give me a break!"  (It should be added that not KNOWING what I was feeling - and finding it too complicated and unsafe to explore - was one of the many reasons my first marriage came to a crash.) So I thought I was truly making progress when I would shout and stomp - I was finally expressing my feelings - and if they were tough or frightening that was just too bad:  they felt tough and frightening to me, too.

It took a while - a LONG while - and a LOT of therapy - for this straight, white guy to learn that there is a difference between having angry feelings and how they are expressed. And I was well versed in the early progressive feminist writings, too!  (Women may find this bewildering or ugly or just plain stupid.  But the sad truth is that men are trained to not only NOT know what they are feeling, but the connections between our right and left brains are not nearly as well defined as those in the brains of women.  The implications of this fact are fascinating as Deborah Tannen has explored at length.) 

+ A very funny albeit politically incorrect expression of this reality used to be regularly exploited  on "The Man Show."  The premise was simple:  every week Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla would talk about what it was REALLY like to be a man and offer skits to make their point. Carolla once confessed, for example, that real men only knew three emotions:  hunger, anger and farting. Then, in typically American hyperbole, they would exploit their take on male stereotypes and close the show out with "babes bouncing on trampolines." It was every bit as biting a social satire as "The Simpsons" or "South Park."  (Find out more @

+ More socially acceptable explorations of the journey from confusion to clarity for men would include the work of Robert Bly, Sam Keen, Philip Culbertson and Richard Rohr. Even the more conservative - and narrow - work of John Eldridge and the Wisdom Keepers taped into the confusion - and violence - that happens when men aren't initiated into the realm of wisdom, managing feelings and strength for the good of a society.  The "One Million Man March," was another honorable approach to this problem.

Bly put it like this: We are living at an important and fruitful moment now, for it is clear to men that the images of adult manhood given by the popular culture are worn out; a man can no longer depend on them. By the time a man is thirty-five he knows that the images of the right man, the tough man, the true man which he received in high school do not work in life.  That was - and is - true for me.  (For more see a TIME interview with Bly @,9171,973647-1,00.html)

So why the history lesson?  What's the point?  Sometimes I still need to remember that when my buttons are pushed - when crazy-makers or petty tyrants seek to provoke - or just when I am too tired to be at my best: the expression of my anger need not become harsh, cruel or frightening.  Other feelings need to be explored beyond anger, yes?  To be sure, it is the one most men have the most practice with - we get angry when we're afraid, we get angry when we are confused, we get angry when we are embarrassed - and all the rest.  Just look at Donald Trump when President Obama took him on last Saturday:  the Trumpster didn't know how to laugh at himself - he didn't know how to express feelings other than anger - so he became a sad, mean-spirited fool.

In The Spirituality of Imperfection, Ernest Kurtz suggests that sometimes those who only know anger get trapped in resentments - literally to "feel again" - and this keeps us locked in the past.  What's more, "resent unites anger, fear and sadness in a kind of closed-circle, scissors-paper-rock game. In the absence of resentment, anger, fear and sadness tend to heal each other.  Anger can act like a scissors and cut through fear...and fear helps us realize we are not in control..." while sadness points us in the direction of our deepest healing.  Resentment "refuses the possibility of going through and beyond the anger into the world of forgiveness."

Forgiveness is what grounds me in the present and points me towards the future.  Forgiveness opens my heart to the wounds I have caused - or that have come my way - and reminds me that there is wisdom in these wounds if I will pay attention.  And as I have noted before, the wisdom of our wounds is counter-intuitive:  when I feel like running away, I need to engage; when I feel like seeking revenge, I need to listen and wait; when I think I know the full truth, I need to shut-up and ask for help, etc.  In other words, I can go beyond having my buttons pushed if I am willing to explore the wisdom of my wounds.  As Kurtz writes, "Even victims are responsible for what they do now."

So, on this day of Sabbath rest, I have spent some time trying to listen to and experience what pushes my buttons.  The wisdom of our wounds takes time - it is always better NOT to respond quickly - but to "be still so that God can be God within us," yes?  I have come to see that laughter helps me.  Walking, too and quiet listening.  (And that includes NOT opening my church emails on Fridays.) Lord, may that be so.

Eugene Peterson puts one the Beatitudes like this and with God's help it is true: You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are and your place in God's family."  

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