By John Dunnett
We live in an age where we seem to be easily offended and quickly angered. Rage is a regular event and brooding bitterness and ill will are standard fare for life. The semi anonymity of social media seems to add fuel to the fire. I believe there is a path out of this for all of us.
Sometimes you hear the most interesting thing as you search for background noise. Not too long ago a family health issue had me on a series of long five-hour road trips. On one of these trips I was allowing the radio to search the dial looking for some background noise for the road. I stumbled across a CBC interview with a woman who was a self-described, “liberal, intellectual, lesbian of African descent, who believes changes are necessary in her religion of Islam.” That was enough to catch my attention because many would see her as the polar opposite to the “conservative, white, heterosexual, evangelical Christian” that some would describe me as being.
It may have caught my attention but what kept my attention was the conversation that followed as she described her commitment to three simple steps toward understanding. Her premises was that we often find it easier to label people with broad assumptions instead of really understanding who they are. She talked about the importance of asking good questions and really listening to understand the answers. She talked about being free to disagree but resisting the need to push counter arguments. Finally she was committed to controlling the emotional response of taking offence. She shared story after story of personal encounters where this path toward understanding helped to defuse issues and create a platform for understanding. They did not all lead to agreement but most brought a degree of positive change. I wish I had not been driving so I could note her name and her book. Or I wish I had a better memory so that I could recall these details to share with you.
Perhaps this caught my attention because I had just preached on “Dealing with Anger” and my action text came from James 1:19. In those verses we are given a three-part path to understanding. We are asked to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. My explanation was three steps that we can take to prevent the damage of angry responses.
Step 1: We need to be quick to listen. That is to look at the incident that causes an angry emotion and examine to see if there is more to it than what we perceive. Ask some good questions. Check the bigger picture.
Step 2: We need to be slow to speak. Don’t feel the need to rush to judgment, win the argument or proclaim your point of view.
Step 3: We need to be slow to anger. There will be many times in life where we feel that sudden flash of anger but we don’t need to aggressively act on it. If we are slower to take offence, we can acknowledge our emotions without needing to demonstrate them immediately we can learn things from each other.
Earlier I said I wished I had this woman’s name to share with you. Actually I would love to have a conversation with her. I think I see a connection between my understanding of James 1:19 and her path to understanding but what do you think?
Rev. John Dunnett is pastor of First Baptist Church in New Glasgow.