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Upsetness: How to Fight Back When You’re in the Thick of Things

“What does it look like to ‘be Jesus’ or ‘love’ when we’re upset?”

On March 10, Princeton Theological Seminary President, Craig Barnes, wrote a letter to the Princeton Seminary Community “addressing the emerging objections to the Kuyper Center’s invitation to the Reverend Timothy Keller…”[1] As a life-long “PCA-er” and big fan of  “the Prophet” (aka Tim Keller…I do not think Tim Keller’s a prophet, just referenced so much in the PCA as if he is one), my reformed feathers were ruffled. Initially, the Kuyper Center awarded Tim Keller the Kuyper Award, but then decided not to give out the award “in order to communicate that the invitation [of Tim Keller to come and give the Kuyper lecture]…does not imply an endorsement of the PCA’s views about ordination.”[2] I was upset. This article’s not about why I was upset but rather “upsetness.” What does it look like to “be Jesus” or “love” when we’re upset?

Let’s start with what the Bible says about this. Psalm 29:11 says this:

“The Lord gives strength to his people;

  the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

How does the Lord bless his people? With peace. Peace is a means by which God blesses. How often do we ask God to bless someone, but not have any idea of how He will actually be accomplishing the blessing? Another verse that can help us to “be Jesus” when we’re upset is James 1:19. It says:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

WHAT?! Granted this is not a ten commandment; however, James clearly says that “everyone should.” “Everyone should” sounds like a Kantian categorical imperative; no ifs, ands, or buts. These two verses remind us of how we’re even able to love our pain-in-the-butt friend. How are you doing being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry? Why is that not one of our first questions to our brother or sister in Jesus when they’re legitimately upset? I think it should be. James does not seem to imply that we can’t speak at all, just slow to use words. What would it look like to be quick to listen? [3]

July 12, 1986 was like most other days for NYPD officer Steven McDonald until he and his partner entered Central Park. A group of teenagers took off once they realized Steven and his partner were cops. Officer McDonald noticed one of the young men had a “bulge in his pant leg.”[4] Before he knew it a gun was pointed at his head then all went blank. Shavod Jones shot Steven three times leaving him without the use of his arms and legs and permanently dependent on a ventilator to breathe. Steven had been married for eight months and his wife was three months pregnant. “To Shavod Jones, I was the enemy. He didn’t see me as a person, as a man with loved ones, as a husband and father-to-be. He’d bought into all the stereotypes of his community: the police are racist, they’ll turn violent, so arm yourself against them. And I couldn’t blame him. Society—his family, the social agencies responsible for him, the people who’d made it impossible for his parents to be together—had failed him way before he had met me in Central Park…I forgave Shavod because I believe the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart. Such an attitude would have extended my injury to my soul, hurting my wife, son, and others even more. It’s bad enough that the physical effects are permanent, but at least I can choose to prevent spiritual injury.”[5]

            I applaud Steven for holding onto hope. Tim Keller says, “The resurrection of Christ means everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.” I think the Christian should be hope-filled. When your friend criticizes you behind your back, hope. When your boss blames you for something your coworker did (and your coworker knows he/she’s to blame, but still doesn’t take responsibility), hope. When “liberals” seem close-minded, hope. When conservatives seem heartless, hope. I pray we keep these realities in mind next time we’re upset. It’s bound to happen, if it hasn’t already today.





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Houston Clark

part-philosopher, full-bibliophile, this child of God grew up in the PCA not knowing he believed in predestination until his ``liberal`` Episcopal next-door neighbor told him that's what ``PCA-ers`` believe. The only thing he wears at all times is his thoughts/feelings about everything (and maybe his Chris Paul socks). He's as curious as Curious George and loves getting things done (see David Allen's book with same title).

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