Most theological colleges are mostly happy places most of the time. However, experienced theological educators know that they can easily be damaged by anger, which is rarely too far away.
Henri Nouwen talks about the quiet internal anger of many ministers –their congregations are not responding to teaching and leading, not changing, even becoming a weight on the minister’s life and feelings. In the same way, lecturers can nurse anger towards students who do not care, are not trying, have little commitment to the subject they love, perhaps do not give enough respect, and above all do not allow the teacher to feel fulfilled. Often the job is not as we would like, it and which lecturer does not know the occasional quiet anger at so much administration these days?
But students also have problems with angerl. Recently, I conducted a poll to try and discover not just what students in class were thinking but what they were feeling as well. Anger came out as an issue. Mostly the anger was directed at other students disrupting classes by coming in late, doing emails in class, and so on. Occasionally anger is directed at the college; students invest a lot of precious money in a course these days and sometimes they are cross that they are not getting all they should, especially if a college is struggling.
Leaders – Principals and Rectors – are often tired and have plenty of tensions which can easily spill over into anger. Looking over the fence at more successful colleges can take the route from envy to anger – even towards God and his calling for them. Petty disputes in the staff or too much selfishness can cause sleepless nights and angry days.
Inter-staff anger is possibly the most common. Crossness with our colleagues, whether in leadership over us or not, is the hazard of every organisation and there are those who would say especially of Christian ones. Some of it is because of badly defines job descriptions, some of it is personality, some of it is problems in the lives of those involved, some an inability to tolerate weaknesses in others.
How do we deal with anger in a Christian way? Ephesians 4.26 is not just useful for married couples;
“In your anger, do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
Three things are said here. Firstly, anger is not in itself a sin. It is a human condition. It can also be righteous anger, for the sake of the kingdom, as with Jesus when he cleansed the temple. You have to say, though, that there are few anger situations in which there is nothing of self.
Secondly, in an occasion of anger, for instance in a college, there is great potential to sin – gossip, unkindness, party spirit, lack of humility, are all there in the wings waiting to come on stage. It must be the Christian task of everyone to ensure that anger does not spill over into sin, so far as it lies with them. Not an easy thing to do when you remember that sin occurs in our thought life as well.
Thirdly, we are asked to work for a quick resolution to the situation of anger – in ourselves and with the other person if relevant. Momentary anger is human. Nursed, continuing anger is horrible, for us and for those with whom we are angry and it harms the work of God in a college.
Let us hope that not too many people get cross with me for raising the subject.