“In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” John 2:14-16
“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Eph. 4:26
“Anyone can be angry but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, with the right purpose…that is not easy.” —Aristotle
Do you have a hard time saying “No”? Many of us often do. We don’t want to come across too harsh or negative. Indeed, aren’t Christians supposed to always be nice, positive and available to help anybody and everybody? Well, maybe but maybe not. Is it not proper for us once in awhile to get angry and say or shout, “Stop it! No, I will not do that! I am angry! I’ve had enough!”
It reminds me of the 1976 movie, “Network”, starring Peter Finch, Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway. The “Network”, a national news service, had news’ ratings as the lowest in the country and the anchor was to be fired. The anchor, Howard Beale played by Finch, became so discouraged he announced he would commit suicide on the set his last night! The owner was furious and demanded Beale to just say good bye and let it go. But Beale got drunk before the show and in front of the camera, went into a tirade about the unfairness and ugliness of life. He began screaming and urging viewers to get to their windows and shout as loudly as possible, “I’m mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore!” It caught on as people from around the country ran to their windows and shouted the phrase! The ratings shot up immediately! The program director, played by Faye Dunaway, decided to reprogram the show to emphasize anger, disgust and misery, making people “mad as hell,” and keep the ratings climbing!
We all probably feel that way at times. Even Jesus, in today’s story, got his “dander up” and shouted out a loud “No!” He overturned tables at the temple and shouted, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s House a marketplace!” In Matthew’s gospel, another version of the story has Jesus shouting; “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers!” Seems a bit “un-Jesus like,” doesn’t it?
I believe the ability to say “No!” is healthy and creates a deeper happiness and peace. I don’t think identifying with our Divinity as being the Son or Daughter means we just let life walk over us with a irresponsible “casa ra sara.” At least that’s not what my mother taught me!
The ability to say “no” is healthy in this world of duality. It helps establish and re-establish boundaries. People with a weak ability to say “no” or “enough” can live unhappy lives with feelings of being constantly victimized.
How does one know when it’s time to say “No?” I think it comes from listening to our feelings and the nudging from the heart. We learn to meditate and ponder how we feel about a demand upon us and if we continually feel uncomfortable and unhappy, it may time to stop and make a change, say no, or move away.
In A Course of Miracles there is a place saying in times of confusion to stop and listen. “There is Something in him that will tell you, if you listen. And that is the answer; listen. Do not demand, do not decide, do not sacrifice. Listen.” (Schucman, Dr. Helen. A Course in Miracles (p. 1294). Foundation for Inner Peace.)
The most difficult part is stopping, or mediating like this. The late Fr. De Mello wrote that stopping our thinking for a few minutes is very difficult. “No matter they do they cannot still the constant wandering of their mind or quieten an emotional turmoil they feel within their hearts.” (de Mello, Anthony. Sadhana (p. 13). Image Books.)
Our minds often churn like jet engines and we just can’t stop them! But learn to focus on your breath, your mantra or word; take a quiet walk and let it pass. And you will know.
There are many things about religious organizations people are today saying “no” to. Many churches are far from being “Houses of Prayer.” They get so busy fund raising and being a “busy, active place” they forget what their true purpose. The presenters of the “New Beginnings” program last Thursday said busy churches usually are troubled churches, missing the very essence of prayer and love development. Some describe churches and temples as being more like chat rooms than times to prayer with God and each other. Remember the book some of you read a few years ago, written by Paul Nixon? It was called, “I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church!” A busy, overly active, non-prayer centered church likely is a dying church.
I knew a pastor in one of our churches a few years ago who became frustrated at the decreasing attendance and participation. One Saturday night he gave the janitor a few extra dollars and they removed the front pews, blocking off the rest to get the people to move down front where he could see them in the large cavernous sanctuary!
Sometimes parishioners need to tell ministers and priests “No!” When I read and hear of offensive conduct by ministers to members, I feel embarrassed. And sometimes ministers and priests need to tell the members “No!” to abusive remarks and lack of support toward them! There is a book out titled, “Clergy Killers” which discusses how congregations can “kill” the minister. The minister needs to say “No!”
Yes, saying “No” helps renegotiate boundaries. Proper use of the anger emotion can help begin needed changes and adjustments to lives. Parents need to be able to say at times to their children, “No! You can’t do that!” Rev. Lewis Bigler, retired Presbyterian minister, once taught a parenting class at Wayside. He said, “One of the purposes of parents is to save their children from doing foolish things for their first 18 years!” Some parents abrogate that responsibility and opportunity. They turn it over to games and schools alone. They need themselves to say “No.”
Often partners need to say “No” to the other. One may be drinking too much, eating too much, working too much, and displaying inappropriate behavior. Years ago I was part of a “family intervention” in which a few of us confronted one of the partners in a marriage whose behavior was disrespectful and inappropriate to the other.
Over history, citizens have often risen up to say “No!” to the leadership of a country. We did that to Britain in 1776. Martin Luther King, Jr. did it in the 1960’s on behalf of the treatment of his own people. Mahatma Gandhi did it in India against the British in the 1940’s. (The British seemed to be “slow learners.”) Mother Jones did it in the last century for cold miners, forcing companies to allow unionization of workers. Erin Brokovich did it to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company for contaminating the citizen water supply in California; Lois Gibbs said “No!” to chemical companies in Niagara Falls for dumping toxic waste in a community in which a school later built a playground.
Buddhists say there is a “Middle Way” of living. We have to find the right “ying/yang” to dance our way through life. None of us will be perfect in this balancing act, but that’s okay. This life, remember, is but a classroom and transient place of constant lessons. If you haven’t been assertive enough in saying enough “No’s” then forgive yourself and try again. If you have been saying “No” all the time and you feel the need to be more of a “Yes person,” then forgive yourself and try again. We don’t need to try raising church ratings by going around shouting, “I’m mad as hell and I am not going to take it any longer!” It didn’t work for Mr. Paladino’s bid for leadership and it won’t for us either.
Do you feel the need to say “No” to a situation? Don’t pound or beat yourself up. Stop and listen for direction, for the answer, and it will be given. When comes, it won’t be because of harsh demands, decisions you just hate, or sacrifices you deeply dread. But because you took time to listen, the Voice was heard, the way opened up, peace will be felt and you will take action. If you over react and spilled over too many tables, well that’s okay too. God will forgive us, refine the lessons, and we will grow in confidence and balance.
My teacher Ram Das wrote, “Everything in your life is there as a vehicle for your transformation. Use it.” And the great Aristotle said, “Anyone can be angry but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, with the right purpose…that is not easy.” So just do it anyway, and be happier!
Summary of talk offered at the 1st Presbyterian Church in West Seneca on March 11, 2012.