I may have landed safely back in Academe, but I became aware that I had a major problem. I was consumed by anger. I couldn't talk about the church without blowing up, for instance. If I had not had my wife and children to care for, I might have gone completely off the rails. Certainly, I said things and did things that could have caused others to wonder about my sanity.
At first, I had a little part-time charge, but after a couple of years that was over. That left me for the first time in twelve years without a place to go on Sunday morning other than one of my choosing. I had no official responsibilities at all, other than to make progress in my doctoral work. And it took another couple of years before the benefit of that finally showed through. I finally forgave the people -- especially my old DS -- whom I blamed for putting me in that situation and then betraying me and my family. And with forgiveness came peace. I wasn't ruled by my anger any more. My wife also improved greatly. We were on the mend.
I defended my dissertation and finished my program midway through my fifth year. I was applying for jobs, which were hard to find, and I was resisting going back to the pastorate. I was afraid of entering the maelstrom again, and this time going down. Meanwhile, I was asked by the DS of the District I was in if I would take a temporary appointment. A little part-time charge of two churches had lost their pastor due to illness. I agreed, and for six months, I pastored West Terre Haute First and Bethesda UMCs. And it completed the healing of my heart. I left off my job search and took a full-time pastoral appointment again in our Conference.
All of which leads me to the point of this post. Anger is energy. You can use anger to get yourself moving, to accomplish goals. But anger is a dangerous servant, and it makes a cruel master. I see a lot of angry clergy, particularly in on-line discussions. Inhibitions are looser on-line than in-person. Some sound as crazy and bitter as I was twenty-seven years ago when I went back to school.
An old counselor friend used to say that one reason we had short pastorates in The UMC was that you had so many angry preachers up front on Sunday morning, staring back at so many angry parishioners. Nobody could hold it together more than a few years in one place. After a few go-'rounds of that, it begins to wear upon you. After a while, anger becomes the dominant part of one's personality: open anger when "off duty," but veiled anger even when dealing with parishioners and official structures. Our families bear the brunt of much of it.
I complain at times about The United Methodist Church. I have stuck by her in good times and bad and have lived by the rules, which gives me a right to. But I complain only because I want my church to be better, to do right. I'm not dominated by anger any more. Even when I get discouraged and pessimistic, I refuse to go back to where I was once. That way lies only bitterness and pain. I think about my old counselor friend's wisdom. I wonder, who will heal all these angry pastors? And then I thank God for my friends who stuck by me and loved me when I was at my most unlovable. May I be so for others whose hearts are consumed by the dark fire.