What is the Speed of God?
I recently read an opinion piece by columnist Michelle Goldberg titled "We Should All Know Less About Each Other" that stuck with me.
The Downside of Social Media
Michelle reports on research conducted by a media scientist during informal meetings held in small towns in the US. The researcher noted that many people said they gave up speaking to their neighbors, once they learned the neighbors' opinions on social media. He concluded that social media “is blocking conversations that otherwise would have been happening just organically.”
The columnist shares some reflections about this finding, then concludes her column with this – "In a country descending into a perpetual state of screeching acrimony, we might be able to tolerate each other more if we heard from each other less."
Why might social media be causing this breakdown among neighbors? Services such as Facebook and Twitter allow people to share content and ideas quickly, without reflecting on its source, reliability, and truthfulness – and with little to no thought on whether some friends might not appreciate you sharing some types of content, especially anything highly opinionated.
Slowing Down Social Media
Recently, social media giant Twitter introduced a premium subscription service called Twitter Blue. Among its premium features? The ability to Undo a Tweet up to 30 seconds after the "Tweet, reply, or thread you've sent posts to your timeline."
Twitter came up with a clever way to monetize slowing down to allow you to fix typos, or even to take a "Second Breath," realize how your post might be interpreted by relatives, friends, or neighbors, and then cancelling it entirely.
Taking a Second Breath
We're walking around the house in our bare feet, and we stub our toe – HARD! Our natural first breath is to yell "Oh, crap!" But, we can choose to take a Second Breath and say, "This is just an inconvenience and I'm really fine. My temporary pain puts me in touch with those who truly suffer in our world."
Driving to work, someone speeds by us and then changes lanes suddenly, ending up just a couple feet in front of us. Our first breath might be, "You jerk, you cut me off on the road!" But, we can take a Second Breath, and say, "You know, I've done that same thing to others when I was upset, and I don't know what kind of day that person might be having. Perhaps I should give him the benefit of the doubt and not flip him off."
The idea, of course, is that the Second Breath eventually becomes the First Breath.
What Does "Godspeed" Really Mean?
My friends and I from First Lutheran Church (FLC) and other faith communities gather every Friday morning at Greensboro Urban Ministry (GUM) to prepare and serve a hot breakfast to our neighbors currently experiencing homelessness.
Many years ago, Frank Dew – then-Chaplain at GUM – shared a memorable devotion that began something like this:
Have you ever thought about the word "Godspeed"? I recently did, and ended up asking myself, "What is the Speed of God?" One of our clients here at GUM immediately came to mind.
This man walked EVERY morning from our facility to his job at a restaurant in Quaker Village near Guilford College – and then walked back after his shift was over. This is just over 6 miles each way, and it took him about 2 hours to walk this distance one way. Imagine that – walking 4 hours every day, at about a mile every 20 minutes. Three miles per hour – fast enough to get him there in time, yet slow enough for him to be mindful of Creation during his journey.
Three miles an hour – that's what I believe is the Speed of God.
Wisdom teachers routinely encourage us to slow down to what Frank called the Speed of God. Doing so allows us to practice mindfulness – being fully aware of, and connected to, the Ground of Being upon which all Creation rests.
Slowing Down to the Speed of God
I recently had time to reflect more on Frank's words. As my body healed from hip surgery, I experienced the Speed of God – my body did not heal any faster, just because I wanted it to. God’s Speed is NOT "Our Speed" – and it certainly is NOT "Internet Speed."
I then began paying attention to things I did, saw, read, or heard that reflected slowing down to God's Speed. Here are some I listed:
- Journaling your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
- Listing at least 2 things every day for which you're grateful.
- Taking a "Second Breath" before quickly making a snarky reply to someone, and instead pausing a few seconds to think and respond in a more appropriate manner.
- Handwriting a note card, applying a stamp, and dropping it in the mail box.
- Providing directions to someone who is lost.
- Helping someone with their homework.
- Teaching someone a new skill.
- Working with a job seeker to help them craft their resume and practice job interview skills.
- Putting on servant clothes to serve those in need.
Traveling at God's Speed
Soon, many of us will celebrate the ordinary, yet always miraculous, birth of a baby. While I am amazed at how much Jesus traveled, I am even more amazed by how he did so – mostly he walked, occasionally he traveled by boat, and only once did he ride an animal.
Jesus traveled at God's Speed. Today, we routinely travel by car or plane – many times faster than Jesus would have ever imagined. Now, our emails are delivered nearly instantaneously – certainly much faster than any animal could have carried a letter or message 2,000 years ago.
Yet our speed and efficiency come at a cost. Faster interactions lead to shallower relationships. Quickly sharing social media posts removes a filter we normally apply in face-to-face interactions. Knowing too little about someone may mean you don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. Knowing too much about someone can remove any doubts you had. Relationships fray, and ties to social structures such as governments and faith communities weaken or break. The cost of all this? We’re worse off, both individually and as a society.
As we mark the birth of Jesus, let's also remember walking was a defining part of his adult mission and ministry of unconditionally loving, teaching, and serving all. Jesus practiced God’s Speed – perhaps we should all do so a little more often.
Peace, Shalom, Salaam, Namaste,
Todd L. Herman