The Common Good

In Praise of Slow Response

The hum of 24-hour “news” drones on in the background most of my days. I’m not quite sure what television media's version of “Breaking” means anymore, though what accompanies it is closer to this Saturday Night Live spoof than real life.

Slow down sign, Semmick Photo / Shutterstock.com
Slow down sign, Semmick Photo / Shutterstock.com

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Something is always “breaking.” And someone is always responding. We feel the need to get there first, to offer the most unique point of view, to lend our “expertise,” or to speak on behalf of our [fill-in-the-blank]. Organization? Generation? Gender? Or some cross-section of all of the above?

I know. I can definitely be part of the problem, and in this, I attempt my confession — sometimes my judgment fails me and I fall into the trap of the sensationalized newsbyte. I’m the web editor of a publication — meaning, I solicit, edit, sometimes even write some of these responses, of which there are a variety.

We have the “first response.” They are those who get there immediately. On television, these might come with the Impact font-ed “Exclusive,” or even “First to Report” (gross). Sometimes they just recount the events. Often, they will include — whether by slant storytelling or outright commentary — their reaction to said events.

Then there’s the “second-day response.” More nuanced, and typically with corrected “facts” that first responders didn’t mind repeating ad nauseam the day before, these reports put the events into greater historical context — or at least whatever context the writer could whip together from Wikipedia entries and closest possible “expert.” (We have a missing plane? Look, here’s a flesh-and-blood PILOT to explain what happened.)

From there, you get the out-and-out commentary. The “here’s my take,” or “this is whose side I’m on.” Rarely unique, though under the constant illusion of specialness, these commentaries attempt to stake out ground for a person or group of people. This happened, here’s how it happened, and here’s where I [we] stand on it.

Inevitably, you’ll then get the response to the response: How dare you stand there! She’s missing the whole point of [news-making event].

And on it goes.

But. What if it didn’t? What if we didn’t talk at each other down a never-ending spiral of false assumptions in a vomit-inducing quest for relevancy? What if reflection and prayer and confession that we don’t know how we feel about something replaced our need to be first? Our need to be heard by the masses? Our need for immediate gratification in the form of a Facebook like? While there is definitely room and need for thoughtful commentary and external processing of the events that surround us, I would encourage us to think a little bit differently.

At Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing last month, writer Leslie Leyland Fields joined writer and Sojourners contributor Rachel Marie Stone and Slow Church’s Chris Smith in praise of “slow reading.” It’s part of the past decade-or-so movement of “sloooooowwwwww” — slow reading, slow food, slow church, etc. It’s a response to our hyper-everything culture in search of simplicity and relishing the moment. My typical response to slow — slow walkers on the packed city streets of D.C., slow checkout clerks at the grocery store on my way home, slow husband leaving the house (I kid! Kind of.) — is to bulldoze it. Get around it. I’m in a hurry; please join my ranks or get out of my way, pleaseandthankyou.

But this time, the idea of slow writing particularly resonated with me.

As writers, as editors — and others as public figures — sometimes we think that we must respond. Our readers are waiting, right? Forget the massive ego that goes into that assumption for a second. Writers are … just … it’s a thing. Of course, it doesn’t have to be:

[God] leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble [God’s] way. — Psalm 25:9

What if, with humility, we attempt to discern how God would have us respond? Again: what if we don’t know what we think yet?

The day of the Newtown school shooting, I was sitting in my office with the news streaming on my laptop in the background as I worked. I remember jumping to attention the moment I heard “mass shooting,” as I grabbed links, live-streams, and news conference schedules to prepare to report.

But I also remember the gut punch that turned me back into a human being when I learned that there were kids.

After a couple of hours, I reached into my middle-school sword-drilled brain for some semblance of a biblical ‘answer,’ slapped the verse on Facebook, and pleaded with our community to pray. Then I traded in the onslaught of cherubic faces pasted across the news for an adult beverage with fellow stupefied coworkers. A friend joined us, toddler in tow. I had no words to explain why this precious child was safe in the arms of his father and others were not.

Because sometimes there is no response. Sometimes we don’t know what we think. Sometimes we can only absorb the brokenness of this world and pray for the strength to put our shoes on the next day. Sometimes it takes days, weeks, months of honest reflection, confession to our Creator, and sitting in heartbreaking silence before we know what we think. Sometimes we’ll never know.

It’s just as true in scandal as it is in tragedy. Our obsession with response never found a non-story it didn’t like.

Celebrity couple divorcing? Please tell us how you “called it” from the beginning.

Survey finds more millennials leaving institutionalized church? It must mean that they’re selfish, godless, and value individualism over community.

Natural disaster strikes? It’s surely a result either of that region’s debauchery and idolatry, climate change, or both.

Christian leader has a slightly different interpretation of Scripture than you do? Throw the Bible at him and raise up your denomination into a ‘holy’ battle for rightness.

You can jump into the easy dissonance of immediacy.

Or, you can stop. You can pray. You can listen.

Then you can choose the slow response.

Sandi Villarreal is Web Editor and Director of Online Media for Sojourners. Follow her on Twitter @Sandi.

Image: Slow down sign, Semmick Photo / Shutterstock.com

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