Pushing the Pause Button

Timing isn’t everything, but it is something. And the world has shrunk so much that nowadays an avalanche of important events seems to fall on us with increasing regularity, if not all the time. To complexity and speed, we should add a third challenging aspect of modern life: simultaneity.

Consider events of the last couple of weeks. An expansive and dangerous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico still defies control and explanation. It reminds us of our nation’s overdependence on oil. It also makes clear that Wall St. is hardly the only place where risks are routinely taken that can, and do, have disastrously far-reaching consequences for millions. Greece’s financial undoing reiterates the point. Lest anyone forget the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the escalating violence there, while our heads were turned briefly toward the Gulf, keeps us focused. Meanwhile, a bomb-rigged car parked in New York’s Times Square, wired to explode, was reported by a street vendor and defused. No one was hurt, but the incident reminds us that terrorism stalks us, that its violence is literally just around the corner. Whew! Of course, you can add your own events to this disturbing list on any given week or two.

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When the recession was examined and the complex set of causes lined up—huge, uncapitalized risks taken by Wall Street in subprime real estate and credit cards; falling real estate prices marking the burst bubble; widespread defaults on credit cards and mortgages; record high unemployment—some corporate executives who ought to have known better testified to Congress that they never imagined so many things going wrong all at once. Conditions, it was said, were “a perfect storm.” Translation: they couldn’t have known so they were not responsible. But simultaneity is a part of modern life and all of us will have to learn to take it into account less as a possibility than as a probability. Wise Murphy the Irishman knew that: what can go wrong will.

Perhaps it is too much for the human psyche. A preference for myopia is understandable, a desire to look straight ahead or only at what is as close as one’s house, family and friends, to keep muddling through without trying to make sense of global events. It may be an inevitable reaction to the media age of nonstop reporting, blogging talking. But the media approach at its best engages with the world and tries to take events seriously. It raises issues, parses them, asks what events mean and for whom. It considers what might be done to shape them, improve things. America Press is part of that media service.
Nowadays, though, like a Van Gogh painting on the auction block, a pause has become increasingly valuable. The very act of pausing, taking a step back in quietude, seems almost countercultural. Perhaps a routine moment of silence would help us moderns take in what is going on long enough to actually reflect on it. Catch our breath.

Prayer is even better. In Christian terms, prayer is a frank admission that the unrelenting chaos of modern life isn’t merely what it seems. That a loving, creative God participates in the daily unfolding, is wholly present, which means that there is more to life than violence and chaos, that there are greater goals and possibilities: like rebirth, reconciliation, unity. America promotes this tradition as well. To critics of religion or of Christian belief, faith can seem like a transparent coping device at best, a collective delusion at worst. But for people of faith, the presence of God changes our understanding not only of what can be, but of what is, whether that is an oil spill or the daily avalanche of bad news.

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