"It's something we experience every day," said the Rev. Walter (Lucky) Childress. "We can describe it, but most of us can't say what anger really is."
So Childress, a Presbyterian chaplain at Children's Hospital and a pastoral counselor, gathered 33 people at the Dulin Methodist Church in Falls Church last weekend to share experiences in a day-long seminar on what anger is.
"I really feel I'm crummy at dealing with anger," said Betsy May, 25, who helps set up staff and nurse schedules at Sibley Hospital. "At work, I'm often afraid of hurting someone's feelings. I feel like I carry around a lot of anger and don't know what to do with it."
Other participants, like Don Strickland, 47, hoped to improve everyday relationships with people.
"In life it seems there's always someone angry with you and you're always angry with someone else," Strickland said.
Jobs, families and losing were the most common causes of anger among the group.The participants agreed they were confused about how to express their feelings.
"One reason we're confused," said Childress, "is the conflicting messages we've been getting through religion. We're taught anger is always bad, but what about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple? They said that was all right, that was 'righteous indignation!'" he laughed.
"Anger is not bad," he told the group, "it's okay to feel what you do. It's all right to express your anger appropriately."
The participants, most of them from Dullin Church, included a teacher, a minister and his wife, a retired policeman, a school bus driver and a library aide. When they become angry, some said, they often express themselves by yelling, sulking, hitting, criticizing, singing, praying and sleeping.
At one point in the eight-hour seminar, Childress dragged out an exercise mat, pillows, a tennis racket and crumpled paper bag. "Now show me what to do with these," he said.
After a few minutes of giggles and mumbled suggestions, the participants hit pillows with the tennis racket, threw the paper ball, did push-ups and had a pillow fight. They felt better, they said, when they were done.
These were "appropriate" ways to express anger, Childress said.
Childress also talked about anger in children. The group listened intently as they recalled the anger and temper tantrums of their children. Childress suggested that children be encouraged to express their anger naturally. "But you should discipline if it becomes destructive, such as hitting," he said.
He said children often need time alone to calm down and parents should allow the child to retreat to his room if it helps.
Although this was Childress' first public anger seminar, he is no newcomer. He's held two such workshops with the pastoral staff at Children's Hospital and two with the nursing staff there.
"They deal with a lot of anger at the hospital," he said. "The chaplains work with children who have chronic and terminal diseases; and there's a lot of anger, especially in the parents. A lot of their anger is directed at God. If we see a parent's basis of theology is that everything is the will of God, then our job is to change that."