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The Care Bear and the Thunder

October 28, 2012

Dealing with anger in discipline:

While I was visiting friends out east, we had a discussion about discipline and about anger. It seems that some people (out east, but not in the west, no) some people experience anger when they are involved in discipline. Let me offer five models for dealing with anger, especially the anger that comes up in discipline. Just two today.

1) The Care Bear

We begin with the Care Bear approach, according to which we should never feel angry because if we are angry, we make other people have negative feelings or we make them increase the negative feelings they already have. In this way, we become responsible for any evil deeds that they may do in relation to our anger.

  • Moral theology according to the Care Bears puts all the responsibility on the authority figure who shows anger and none on the person who may be in the wrong and who may need to be corrected. It asks parents to feel ashamed of their anger and it leaves them without the strength to deal with the demanding provocations which they face every day.
  • If Care Bear moral theology were correct, then the sins of Judas should have been prevented by the goodness of Jesus. Indeed, the betrayal of Judas has been advanced as proof against the divinity of Jesus, the (Care Bear) argument being that any such evil thoughts should have been dissipated by the love of God if Jesus were truly God. So this is not Christian moral theology.
  • Yet it does appear Christian because it partakes of one important aspect of Christian teaching. Jesus does ask us to consider the needs of others, even the least attractive persons in our lives, and not to condemn anyone. Furthermore, the vocation of Christian authority never cancels the vocation of Christian humility: we can always become holier; we must always avoid the sin of anger, even in a situation that calls for the strong exercise of authority.
  • There is another problem with the moral theology of the Care Bear, for he does not recognize the demands of truth. Christians always seek truth. They do not diminish the sins of others in order to be nice or to pretend humility. They know what is true; at least they seek to know it. No desire for humility trumps the search for truth. Genuine humility is based on recognizing the great generosity of eternal love, not on cultivated falsehoods about one’s personal value, not on blaming oneself for others failings. So the moral theology of the Care Bear has some Christian dimensions, but other fundamentally anti-Christian dimensions.

2) The Thundering One

We may speak of the thunderstorm model according to which certain passages of the Old Testament, and a few from the New as well, are crafted into a global permission to be explosive and threatening in our anger because that is how God is portrayed. It is sometimes even presented as a mandate: if your discipline is mild, you spoil your child. Something about rods. How many times I have heard a friend state that the child is born sinful and her spirit must be broken so that God can form it. According to her, that breaking of the spirit is your job as a parent. This is a very serious error. You are not called to break the spirit of any child, and how do you suppose that your child will become great if he is broken by the very people, his father and mother, who represent God and the universe to him?

  • First off, there is only one God, Old Testament and New, and there are plenty of gentle images in the Old Testament. Let’s not set the Father against the Son, because it will harm our ability to worship God whole-heartedly. There is only one God.
  • Second, the thundery model of discipline is so open to unrestrained anger and is so socially and politically out of fashion that not much needs to be said against it; I’ll just say one thing, very firmly: giving way to unrestrained anger is a sin. It just is. You belong in the presence of God at all times. I don’t criticize anyone who gets angry; I understand; I get angry too. But it is not part of my relationship with God, and I recognize that it’s hard for me to speak to the fountain of love when I’m angry. I talk to God about my anger as soon as I can; in that way, I bring my anger into the relationship just as I bring other sins into the relationship. I appeal for help.

Let me take this one step further. It is commonplace to have one child in the bunch who makes a career of exploiting our weaknesses and tweaking our pet peeves; he’s the one about whom we say, “he makes me so mad!”

  • I understand, but: no. Nobody makes you mad. If you lose control of your temper, it’s because you have your own immaturity to deal with. Immaturity is not a sin; but anger is, and you have to do your own growing up here. Yes, the kid is in the wrong to tweak you; yes, you may have to correct him, or perhaps you have to ignore him or even be care-bear kind in some cases.
  • In any case, your anger is not his sin. It’s yours, and he cannot bear the weight of being responsible for your sins. That’s not fair; you are the adult. If you want your child to grow up, you have to be committed to growing up yourself. And if you can’t grow up, fine, join the crowd of sinners asking Jesus for help. Just don’t blame the kids.

The up-side of the thundery model is that it does proclaim that sin is real and must be dealt with. It’s the very opposite of the Care Bear type of dishonesty, and this opposition is what makes it so tempting to Christians. We love it, when, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Mrs. Beaver says, “Aslan is not a tame lion!”

He’s good; but he’s not “safe.” Of course Jesus is our Savior; he is the essence of “safe” but He is not mushy.

Discipline can’t be just mushy and it can’t be all thunder either.


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