I’ve started reading a book recently that unveils the lust for speed that predominates in the financial industry. It’s actually a good read, if you’re interested (Flash Boys, available on Amazon Kindle), but what struck me most of all in its early pages was this ungodly truism: Speed has replaced Jesus as Savior.
Now perhaps you could argue that this obsession with faster, farther, better has really only reached dire levels in the United States, where an unhealthy merger of patriotism, nationalism, capitalism, and individualism has generated an environment of survivalism Darwin would have found unnatural. But it exists elsewhere, too; as economics, politics, and communication grow on a global plane instead of in uniquely different national spheres, we find that to keep ahead in all parts of the world means producing faster. Actually, it’s worse than that: we have to EXIST faster.
There are obvious downsides to this harried pace of life, but one of the ones we chose to ignore is our spirituality. Whatever faith you profess, you can only do so genuinely with some serious self-examination. And in order to self-examine, you need to pause and reflect. Reflection doesn’t work too well at 100 miles per hour, though we try to make it happen. We stick books on tape in our car stereo systems to hurriedly digest a novel on our way to work; we put every meal we know in the crock pot so we don’t have to spend time cooking; and when it comes time to relax and socialize, we hop and bustle and drink until frazzled. We cannot sit and relish and listen.
My father told me a story a few years ago about a trip he took to Vienna that puts this dilemma in the spotlight. We had spent time as a family in the Austrian capital many years prior, and so he expected there to be significant changes. Though, as always, when you enjoy a culture, you don’t really want to see it change much. One of the unfortunate changes he did see was in the cafe culture. Once upon a time, Vienna was widely known for their luxurious coffeehouses, in which guests would come to linger over freshly brewed coffee and pastries, read the newspaper, gossip about the world, and relax. But in recent years, Starbucks has taken a foothold in the city, and has offered Viennese an innovative idea: to-go cups. Now, younger generations—and even older folks on the go—stream in and out of Starbucks instead of going to classic Viennese coffeehouses where the idea of a to-go cup is simply anathema.
This is, of course, only one example of our movement toward faster paces and love of speed. It makes you wonder, as we near Holy Week, what kind of “speed culture” existed in Jesus’s day. Was there much hurry to his life? Or, because there was no such thing as a car, or a computer, or a phone, or Starbucks, were things just enjoyed at a much slower speed? It occurs to me that much of Jesus’s ministry involved walking—lots and lots of walking. And whether meandering on his own or surrounded by his disciples, he had plenty of time to think, to talk, to process, to consider, and to pray. Where is that for us today?
Some may argue that precisely because we’ve made speed the key to our survival in culture and society that you cannot escape it—it’s a necessary evil. You learn to be quick, or you drown. And perhaps there’s some truth to that, but just the same, it doesn’t preclude us from intentionally pausing. Going for a walk. Meditating over a verse. Writing a reflection. We may not have long journeys between villages and towns to give us think time, but we have opportunities just the same. A speed culture doesn’t mean speed is God. It only means that speed is sometimes necessary to succeed by uncomfortable, imperfect human measure. In the end, what does that human measure mean to God? Does it even satisfy us?