Ask questions before acting

The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-Charge - Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

When issues arise that provoke anger it is good to ask questions before acting. Our tendency is to react to troubles based on our emotions. We tend to think that someone is to blame for an indiscretion. We separate the sheep from the goats and want to hurt someone. But the alternative is to begin a response by calming our emotions and to ask questions so that we can discern the bigger picture.

Take a budget for a church as an example. If the plan is to have a balanced budget, and the committee presents a deficit budget, the committee is immediately suspect for not doing its homework. But budgets express priorities. Who has the authority to set priorities – the budget committee or some other group? What is the next step?

That is a rather minor example but there are situations that may stimulate our anger with a desire to punish the offender. Yet, has it been determined if the offense was

intentional or an accident? Did we ask questions to discern the truth of the situation?

One of the joys of the Book of Proverbs is that it has multiple wise sayings to help us with our discernment of problems in order to become wise. A New Living Translation of Proverbs 3:21-22 reads: “My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment. Hang on to them, for they will refresh your soul. They are like jewels on a necklace.” Since anger is often our quick response before discernment, Proverbs 15:1-2 using the NRSV gives good advice: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.”

Reacting rather than acting is understandable since we may feel that something is profoundly wrong. We may feel vulnerable or helpless. The test then becomes whether or not our inner calm can stay in control rather than turning to violence. Indeed, some things can rightly bring us to anger. As David Wyte has written, “Stripped of physical imprisonment and violent reaction, anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for.” To reach this understanding one has

to refrain from violent reactions and ask questions to more clearly understand the situation. Without this discernment one may need to make apologies for harsh, unnecessary words. A soft initial response to problems employs the “tongue of the wise” rather than the “folly” of a “fool.” If, indeed, the initial anger was stimulated because of deep caring for the abused, one can move forward in loving, positive ways to bring peace rather than war.

The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-Charge

Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

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