Maybe We Should All Slow Down and Take a Deep Breath
Joe Biden’s Inaugural Homily on Wednesday got to me. I was so armed. I was so ready to fire. His “unity” message (and I do mean those as scare quotes) was perfectly designed to divide us far worse than Donald Trump ever did. Undoubtedly there is more like it to come. This Democratic administration looks likely to serve us a whole series of rolling crises.
When it comes, expect every journal, paper, and website to rush to respond. It comes with the job. You’d be surprised at how much pressure there is to pile on quickly, to get there first, not thinking how much more comfortable the guy on the top of the pile must be — the one who took his time getting there. It isn’t just public comment that comes under that pressure, though. You’re going to feel it around the water cooler, too, or your Zoom equivalent.
Joe Biden sure seems to be in a hurry, an almost unbearable rush to make change. Watching him do it seems equally unbearable. He’s creating trouble now, and it won’t be long before we have to deal with his creations.
Crisis Can Be a Cue to Slow Down
I’m not sure how easily I’ll be able to follow my own advice when that happens. It’s hard to put the brakes on, here in this business of column-writing. I’ve learned, though, that even a crisis can be a cue to slow down.
I’m thinking now of the worst one I’ve ever been involved in, ten or so years ago. I’ve written about in the past, but I’d rather not be as specific about it today. Suffice it to say that a pastor at my church did something very illegal, very unethical, very damaging, something guaranteed to hit the news. Our church was not guaranteed to survive it.
It was rough, but we made it, and kept the church’s witness and even its reputation intact. Everyone involved attributed that at least partly to the man whom God provided to help us through the first 24 to 48 hours. He was a man of faith, wisdom, and a level of competence you don’t just find anywhere: He’d both worked and taught crisis management at the highest levels of federal government and the military. Thankfully, he volunteered to help us at no charge.
High-Powered May Mean Low Speed
And so it was that five or six of us sat in a conference room with him the morning after our crisis was revealed. I wondered how such a high-powered, expert crisis manager would lead us to meet this rough situation. He surprised me. A lot. He turned to the senior pastor and asked, “How are you doing?” And he listened.
He didn’t hurry it along. He didn’t interrupt. The pastor had plenty to say about how he was doing at that moment. Our expert crisis helper let him say it as slowly and as thoroughly as he wished.
Then he turned to the next person and asked, “How are you doing?” And listened. Around the room, one at a time, just asking and listening: “How are you doing?”
It took most of an hour for all of us to have our turn. Only then did our expert guide move us on into discussing about damage control, leadership assignments and re-assignments, communications (including a statement for the press), and all the other things I’d expected him to dive straight into at the start.
We thought we had business to do, a very difficult problem to start solving. We didn’t know this was part of the process: calming down, shedding any sense of panic, and centering ourselves in a place where we could think well, pray well, plan well.
A Principle Worth Practicing in Advance
It’s a lesson I hope I can keep hold of through the days to come.
We’re in a precarious position. Conditions are ripe for the unthinkable, totalitarianism in the U.S.A. Biden’s administration has almost unrestrained power to do what it wants, and has already shown its eagerness to exercise it. Today the worst is only a set of predictions, albeit well-informed ones; tomorrow (or next week or next month) the worst may be reality.
When it comes, it will come as a crisis. It may or may not come as one that needs instant response. I’m suggesting that if there is time to slow down, we prepare to take that time to center ourselves, to consult with all the wisdom we can find, to understand, and especially to pray. Even today we can practice taking a metaphorical deep breath, taking the time we need to stay centered in the truth, to seek understanding, and (again, especially) to pray.
Slower answers are often stronger, wiser answers. I suggest we slow down now. I think we’re going to need the practice.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the recently released Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.