I'm a small town girl. Growing up in a rural community in Iowa, life seemed pretty simple. In my little world there were bad people and good people and wise people and foolish people and the good, wise people usually rose to the top of society Unfortunately, life experience did not match that presupposition and my naivety didn't last very far into my adult life. For the last few decades my world has continued to expand, and with it, my ideas and experiences around how life plays out.
But my week in Guatemala has stretched my social, cultural and religious assumptions to some pretty freaky places. I have never much enjoyed spending time in arenas where I don't feel skilled or competent. Combine that with my go-to response of shutting down when I feel overwhelmed and you've got a recipe for denial. Essentially, the equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and yelling, "La la la la la la"! when certain issues are being discussed.
But God is showing me that this will not do if I am going to call myself a follower of Jesus. The God of the Bible is a lover of justice and his call for the church involves the implementation of justice. "To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God." To uphold the cause of the widow, to proclaim freedom for prisoners, to care for the fatherless, to bind up wounds and ensure justice for the poor and oppressed. Not just to pray for the poor or marginalized (although prayer is vital). Not just send money to others who can deal with the messy, complicated webs of injustice and suffering. But to engage in the pursuit of justice personally, even if it's imperfect.
Last week, one of our excursions was to an organization in Guatemala City dedicated to exhuming the remains of the thousands upon thousands of casualties of the civil war that waged from 1960-1996. These victims were branded 'guerrillas' and were captured, raped, tortured and killed, then thrown into mass graves. But most were not guerrillas. They were innocent mothers and daughters and fathers and sons. The truth is beginning to come to light and the healing process begun as a team of scientists undertake the painstaking work of finding these graves, carefully removing the bones and other personal items, returning the remains to the lab and reconstructing them. In this process they note trauma, gunshot wounds, shrapnel, etc., test for DNA, interview family members or other community members who may have known them and work to connect survivors to the dead. They do this so that families and communities can heal and truth be told and forgiveness be given as injustices are exposed. And, they do this in the hope it might not happen again.
Making it Personal
What I observed as we entered the facility, was a hallway stacked floor to ceiling with boxes. Each box held the remains and personal items of one person (two, if it was a mother and her dead infant).
It was hard to believe it was real. After an introduction of their work by one of the scientists we were ushered into the lab. On the tables in front of us were the meticulously laid out skeletons of perhaps six bodies. Two were tiny--toddlers at best.
How does one process the horror and sadness contained in that one room? I do not know.
We were then shown a large storeroom where the remains of hundreds of victims in newly uncovered graves were stored. As our guide shared what they knew about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these children, women and men our group stared blankly at the rows of boxes. We asked questions, not really wanting to know the answers. "Did they have to dig their own graves?" "Certainly." "Were they dead when they were buried?" "Not always."
One classmate asked our guide how she dealt with all the death and sadness and injustice and apathy from the general public. She seemed so calm as she stated, "Well, with the passing of time..."and then the tears began to stream down her face as the rest of her sentence was swallowed up in the sorrow.
As my black and white world continues to grow smaller in the distance, I am left moving toward an uncertain future. The heroes and villains are beginning to look a lot alike and I sometimes recognize my own face among the perpetrators. I feel damned if I move too quickly or too slowly. But I know I must do something. Not everything. Not regarding every injustice. So what is God inviting me to?
I don't know.
But I can start with telling the story.
I don't drive in the slow lane. At least not until last week. Now I'm hooked.
Here's the story.
I didn't set out to conduct a personal experiment--it just sort of evolved. Last week I headed over the hill to San Jose to see my spiritual director. On my last visit I was pulled over for the first time ever and politely handed a speeding ticket. This time, I decided to leave early and drive the speed limit.
This is new territory for me. I left in time to arrive fifteen minute early and I instantly felt guilty. There is so much I could have accomplished in that fifteen minutes if I weren't driving. But within minutes I decided to make a game of it. What would it feel like to stay in the right lane for the whole 45 minute drive? I felt ready for the personal challenge.
Slow is stupid.
As cars sped around me I felt an initial tinge of anxiety. It was really more a sense of inferiority. I was driving slowly and I felt stupid. Recently Madison and I saw a car with this sign taped to the back--"New driver. Just learning stick shift. Sorry." I wished I had that sign on this particular drive.
(Quick aside--if you're a right lane driver already, this blog will only disgust you. I've got problems and let's just acknowledge that you're better than me and move on. You don't need to read to the end because you've already mastered the art of slowing. )
Things I learned about myself.
The first ten minutes were a battle of fighting my well developed impulse to move as quickly as possible. The next ten were a battle of fighting my new self-awareness. It didn't take long to uncover some serious pathology brewing beneath my need to speed.
Here are the top four:
Image Management. I drive a mini-van and I feel the need to represent mini-van drivers everywhere. We are not unskilled or unimportant. We have places to be too. For some reason, I believe that my superior driving skills will leave people with a good impression of me. For what end? I do not know.
Competition. I like to win. And most things can be turned into a competition--even if I'm just competing with myself. Can I get there faster than I did last week? Can I accurately decipher traffic patterns? Can I safely weave my way through the checkerboard-like traffic? It's a sickness--until you need me to get you somewhere fast, then suddenly, I'm your best friend.
People Pleasing. I hate to be in someone's way. So, if a driver gets up too close on my rear bumper, I usually feel bad. Like I did something wrong. The least I can do is get out of their way so they can move forward at the pace they desire. This is closely linked with my desire that other people get out of my way when I'm in a hurry (which is most of the time).
Over Optimism. When calculating how long it will take for me to get from point A to point B, I am always optimistic about the conditions. I know which lanes are fastest at any given point of a commute. I know that if I make the light at King, I'll have to speed to make the light at River. I know to take King on the way to school and Mission on the way home. I know short cuts going either way on Morrisey. But I never factor in a car turning left or an accident or a pedestrian throwing off my groove. All things that occur regularly. Truth is, I over estimate the positive factors and pretend the roadblocks don't exist or that I can find a way around them without much cost. If that isn't a metaphor for my life, I don't know what is.
Twenty minutes into this experiment and I was hooked. It was so calming! I didn't worry about changing lanes or getting out of people's way or calculating how to get around slow vehicles and I could feel my blood pressure dropping. Plus, with all that strategy-building space freed up in my brain, I could think about other things. Creative things. Prayer, even.
I arrived at my appointment feeling relaxed, peaceful and centered. Weird! After that I headed up to San Francisco for an extended time of reflection and then an evening meeting. I decided to drive slowly for the entire day. What I found fascinating, was that everything was less irritating. Traffic jams didn't faze me. Slow cars in the fast lane had no negative impact on my day. Someone wants to merge in front of me? Go right ahead! All emotions completely foreign to me in a commuter setting.
On the last leg of my journey I elevated the challenge. I was actually running late as I left Golden Gate Park to head to my meeting. But I decided to continue my pattern. Even running late, I found slow driving to be a balm to my soul. And, when I arrived at my destination I was more settled and less frenetic. I listened more attentively and was less tired after an evening of extroverted activities. And, even with open highway, I easily stayed within the speed limit on my 90 minute drive home.
And, yes, I'm aware we are celebrating my success at simply obeying the law. Just go with it.
This is a real thing.
It occurred to me in the slowness, that I'd heard about this before--this wasn't my idea. When I returned home I pulled out my Spiritual Disciplines Handbook and looked it up. Sure enough, there is discipline of slowing. And--get this--one of the suggested exercises is (and I quote) "Intentionally drive in the slow lane."
"If you can't take time to do nothing, you're a slave to doing. Doing nothing is a radical, revolutionary act. It frees you from the universal slavery of our age; slavery to the clock. The clock measures doing, but not being."
But practicing the discipline is not the end goal. It's simply a way to make space for God to do his transforming work. In this discipline, I may see some of the following fruit (again, taken from the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook):
I'm reminded that this experience essentially resulted from a speeding ticket and my desire to not have that happen again. Funny how God gets our attention sometimes. But I'm ever so grateful.
I'm looking forward to more days in the slow lane as I engage in the revolutionary act of "unproductive" living for the joy of sanity, freedom and trust in the long, slow work of God.
How about you? What is it like for you to choose to do things slowly? How do you react to a slow sales clerk or a child who is dawdling? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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