Tyler Glenn and Jeffery Holland: The Power and the Limits of Anger

IMG_3130Shortly after Nathan and I married we were enjoying a family evening for two. He was about 12 years old at the time (#kiddingnotkidding) and had literally just come home from his mission. He’d had a wonderful mission and he was determined to start our marriage on the right Mormon foot by setting set up the church’s ‘home and family’ programs in regimental fashion. I had watched his zealotry unfold with suspicion but held my misgivings until this particular evening. It was his turn to lead the discussion and the lesson was about fatherhood. Some might know that I lucked out (ie. I wasn’t lucky in NZ usage) when it came to scoring a decent father and I thought my new husband was well aware of this personal misfortune. Regardless he read the prescribed question to me without apology,

‘Share a way in which your father has blessed your life.’

‘He didn’t’, was my blunt reply.

He looked blankly at me, shook his head, stabbed at the lesson manual for emphasis and replied,

‘That’s not  the right answer’.

To whit he repeated the question several times while I spat out the same response. And the temperature began to soar.

 

This might have looked comical at first glance but I found it anything but amusing. Even now I can still feel the traces of those glancing  blows of insensitivity that my body absorbed. My heart raced, I could feel my blood fizz and spark with a brewing fury. My mouth went dry and a throb appeared behind my eyes. I wanted to scream and cry. It was the first time that I seriously considered packing my bags and leaving.

 

He could sense my growing anger and the dynamics began to shift.  A drama was about to unfold.   This moment ceased to be about his dogged attachment to a poorly and insensitively executed question. It became about power. He felt the power in this ‘teacher student’ relationship challenged. I felt my power to author my own story effaced.

 

I recall that I did what I do best when backed into an emotional corner – I roared. He did what he does best, he became outwardly impassive and emotionally unavailable.   As far as he was concerned he had the priesthood and the lesson manual and that put him in an inviolate position. As far as I was concerned I had a right to be seen, to be understood, to have my whole self admitted into this conversation. But I was denied and was, as a result, blistering with resentment.

 

I share this story because in the last day we’ve seen the release of Tyler Glenn’s heartbreaking and affecting new solo single ‘Trash’ where he rages against the church that broke his heart:

You keep throwing me out like
You keep throwing me out like
You keep throwing me out like
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

 

And as it happens in an anomalous coincidental event we’ve also been apprised of the audio of Jeffery Holland  who, at a single adult fireside in Tempe Arizona  blusters and rages against those who left the church;

“Don’t you dare bail. I am so furious with people who leave this church. I don’t know whether ‘furious’ is a good apostolic word. But I am. What on earth kind of conviction is that? What kind of patty-cake, taffy-pull experience is that? As if none of this ever mattered, as if nothing in our contemporary life mattered, as if this is all just supposed to be “just exactly the way I want it and answer every one of my questions and pursue this and occupy that and defy this – and then maybe I’ll be a Latter-Day Saint”?! Well, there’s too much Irish in me for that.”

The irony of these two polarities wherein Glenn pours out his fuming rage in song at a church that doesn’t want him, and an apostle who pours out his fury at those who leave is heart-rending.  Furthermore this  twinned event demonstrates a behavioural extreme that few have seen publicly expressed and it has caused many to wonder about the limits and boundaries of their own anger.

 

I’m not going to deprive anyone of their right to think and feel what they want to about Holland and Glenn. But this moment has brought up for me once again that evening some two decades ago, and I’ve realized that what Nathan and I wanted more than anything else was to be seen. Nathan was being an ass (as I like to periodically remind him), but he too wanted his halting young man’s efforts to be a good Mormon husband acknowledged and appreciated.   But in both of our clamoring desire to be right we simply stopped seeing each other.

 

Before we imagine that there is equivalence between Glenn and Holland – there isn’t. As Glenn dramatically draws a vivid X on his face he does so as a sign of his powerlessness.  That being the case it still behooves all of us to really ‘see’ both parties in their vulnerability lest we become so overwhelmed by anger that we lose ourselves.  The truth is, expecting more community healing while nursing anger is as futile as my belief that Nathan might have suddenly come to his senses while I was staring him down with burning ferocity.

 

Not that anger isn’t natural and expected – it absolutely has its place – but it mustn’t be our destination. I’m a pretty passionate woman and sometimes that passion slips into unmitigated fury, but I’ve had to get better at recognizing that while fury has its benefits it also has its limitations. While it propels us to pay attention to injustice it isn’t the solution. Eventually anger will demand a tax that we will pay with our soul’s health because fury and the pursuit of justice can’t co-exist in perpetuity – they make wild and gorgeous lovers to begin with but they will soon weary of each other.

 

This intensely volatile moment doesn’t call for side taking and name calling as much as it calls for our duty to ‘understand’ each other even when one party in the hostility has more power than the other. We gain more than we lose if we quiet our reflex to judge and dismiss, and pay attention to what is really going on.

 

If we really pay attention to Tyler, his song is resonant because it represents a profound, collective spiritual wound for many, many Mormons. If we really pay attention to Holland we see that the Upper Rooms are grappling with the conundrum of a tide of evacuees from the good ship Zion – so much so that their beloved narratives of the church’s universal excellence is threatened – it tells us that they are terrified. If we put aside the question of whether one or the other has the right to feel a particular way and simply attend to the sting of both experiences it puts some things into perspective. The church as it is presently constituted can and is causing pain. The exclusion policy alongside other institutional offences has caused a horrific injury to the body of Christ – and just because a part of the body hasn’t registered that pain it doesn’t make the wound any less real, it just means that we are out of touch with all parts of ourselves as a people. It means that we are a community in deep, deep crisis.

 

This crisis can be attended to with our anger, or it can be attended to with wisdom. Anger will be the natural expression of our exasperation with the failing parts of our body. I’ve twice snapped my Achilles tendons playing rugby and as the blinding pain shot up my leg with excruciating ferocity even the paramedics were alarmed by the violence of my response (my children will attest to their own surprise at their mother’s liberal use of some very colorful language), but my rage did tell them that I had an injury that needed immediate attention.    Still, healing didn’t come from my interminably shouting and swearing at my leg. It came from an expert evaluation of the injury, an informed diagnosis, the application of the best protocol and patience (and some blessed morphine).

 

To be honest I don’t know that Nathan and I have ever solved our 20 year Family Home Evening lesson disaster. I still raise it with impunity if I want the moral high ground, and he still rolls his eyes when I begin any disagreement with, “I remember….”   That is a testament to our residual immaturity as a couple. But I know instinctively what will heal this annoying rift.

 

Compassion.

 

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