How do we respond when there are more questions than answers?
It has been a difficult, painful news cycle in the history of the North Georgia Conference. And there remain more questions than answers. Many people across the state, inside the church as well as out, have been left shaking their heads by recent events.
In Cobb County, a long-time church leader has been accused of a serious criminal offense. In DeKalb County, a pastor was hospitalized for days after being brutally attacked inside her church in the middle of the day.
In an era of social media and instant digital communications at your fingertips, it is virtually impossible to slow down the pace of information to a speed where news can be absorbed and digested. People are impatient for answers. Members of the media want an immediate response. In a rapid-fire, heavily competitive news environment, the most unpopular response to a difficult question is often the most appropriate one.
“I have no clue.”
But those four words are not often heard on air or read in print. There is a constant demand for comment, explanation, analysis, reaction, even when some events leave you speechless.
The phone calls, e-mails and text messages from local media began flowing into conference offices shortly after news that a respected retired church leader had been arrested and charged with possessing and distributing child pornography.
When news of the arrest broke, Bishop Mike Watson was leading a conference group in an annual tour of the Holy Land. Jamie Jenkins, executive assistant to the bishop and head of the conference Communications Office, was also on the tour.
“I was in the Tel Aviv airport, getting ready to come home, when I heard the news,” Jenkins said. “It was disconcerting to say the least. It was a long flight home and that news made it a little longer.”
Bishop Watson, who had already left Israel for a brief side tour of Jordan, did not hear the news of the arrest for two more days. When Bishop Watson arrived home there was more difficult news waiting, a beloved pastor was recovering from a vicious assault that took place inside her church. Just hours of arriving back at the Atlanta airport, the bishop was making an emergency hospital visit.
How do you put such news in context?
News travels fast. Bad news travels faster. And in our high-tech, digital age of instant communications we want instant answers. Nature abhors a vacuum and our new Information Age abhors silence.
No one likes to admit their own lack of knowledge or ignorance. It can be flattering to have someone ask your opinion or provide an answer to a difficult question. We would have hours of dead air on radio and television if “experts” were not able to provide rapid-fire responses to the topic of the hour.
No one likes to admit, “I have no clue.”
It has become increasingly difficult for us to slow down long enough to absorb difficult news before we move on to the next problem of the day. The phone rings, the text messages pile up, the e-mails fill the inbox. People want a response and they want it now. Many folk care less about a thoughtful, insightful opinion as much as they seek any opinion. As a result, we end up with more “heat” than “light.”
As people of God we are called to be people of the light.
Jesus had a habit of withdrawing from the needy masses surrounding him to go to a quiet place to commune with the Father. Though he had a lot of work to do and many demands in ministry, he made time for solitude and prayer.
In difficult, painful times, we are left with more questions than answers. No doubt, in the coming days there will be more information to absorb and digest. Until then, it seems most appropriate to be patient, slow to speak and quick to listen.
I am grateful to know that prayer is more about listening to God than it is talking to him. I just want to make sure I am listening carefully.