Over the Same Ground

Once a month, I cross Marion Road and enter Town Hall. Up a few steps and down the hall I go, arriving at the Clerk’s office to post the agenda for the library board meeting. If I need to file paperwork for a new member, I go up another set of stairs to the Selectmen’s office. Paperwork properly filed, I head back out the front doors and skip down the impressive but rarely used front steps. A right takes me back to town, a left toward Shaw’s market, an about face to the middle and high schools – at least three options every time I have business at Town Hall.

Sometimes, Town Hall comes to me – announcements, notifications, and emails. Last week, it was an email that marched into my computer, bringing with it an undeserved slap on the wrist delivered in words that were a slap in the face – a selectman complaining about the actions of the board I chair. In this case, the complaint as well as the insults were based on faulty information or his misreading of partial information. The three paragraph finger shaking was undeserved and certainly inappropriate as a means of communication between a selectman and a municipal board. It’s not the first combative communication and it’s not likely to be the last. This is well worn ground here in Wareham.

After a few minutes, I sent a reply asking to meet to discuss the issues. After several hours, I drafted a response, correcting misunderstanding and setting the record straight. It wasn’t quite as abrasive as what I had received, but there were a few sentences that weren’t exactly complimentary. With the help of other board members, I chose other words. If the selectman who sent the email doesn’t agree to a meeting, I will send it.

There are three possibilities every time I leave Town Hall. I don’t have to go the way I came. Regardless of what I encounter in Town Hall, I can choose another direction when I leave. I don’t have to go down the same road, trading confrontational and insulting language back and forth. I can choose neutral words, correcting misunderstanding and false information without bitterness. I don’t have to return like for like.

It’s not easy for me to return respect and patience for insult and accusation. But with the help of others, I’ll go in a different direction. With luck, patience, and prayer, perhaps the selectman who sent the email may just find it possible to do the same…

O Sing to the Lord a new song. Psalm 96:1

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Johnna

I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

2 thoughts on “Over the Same Ground”

  1. It really isn’t easy, is it? But, you know, for me, it’s a bit like heaping hot coals on the head of the adversary to return courteousness and respect for pettiness and shallowness. It feels good (sometimes) to know I took a higher road…”I can appreciate how upset you must be if you thought I intended to say… (or what we intended was…)–that would get me upset, too. Fortunately that was not what I meant …I hope that in the future you will not prejudge my intent until we have had time to clarify it together and that you will not assume the worst of my intentions going forward so that we can work together better.”
    I have NO idea what compelled me to write this but there it is.✌️

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