Driving back from Canadian Tire, I found myself behind a cheerfully bright brand-new Jeep--quite a cute vehicle, and clearly the new owner's joy and delight. The Jeep drifted down the long, long street at a ripping 15 kilometers per hour (for you non-metric types, that's 9 mph), slowing down to almost nothing at every street corner, just in case. And there was nothing I could do but fume, continually shifting as my poor manual-transmission car grumbled on the margin between first and second gear.

It happens at this time of year: drivers who won't tackle Canadian winter driving get their cars out when Spring Mud Season starts, and because their driving skills are rusty, they tend to be excessively timid. I remember one lovely gent in a dark red Pontiac, always with a golden retriever in the front seat, who each spring would commence driving along the county road from Oxford Mills to town at a rousing 40 kph (27 mph); the posted limit is 80 kph (50 mph), but the normal driving speed is more like 100 kph (60 mph). Fortunately, that road has a fair number of passing places. I don't know if he ever noticed the long train of frustrated drivers building up behind him. Probably not.

The worst such incident I can remember happened a year or two ago. I was headed downtown and fetched up behind a lady in a North American land yacht, who painfully made her way along my route at a blinding 10 kph (6 mph). She stopped at the green light by the post office, just in case, pausing and peering both ways until she was quite certain that nobody planned to make a left turn on red. She turned ever-so-carefully down the side street by the bank and crept into the petfood store parking lot. As I got out of my car in the bank parking lot, I heard a loud and resounding crash. She'd managed to plow into another car--quite seriously, going by the tinkle of broken glass. I didn't think it was possible at that speed....

Goes to show: slow is not always safe.

True, excessive speed is dangerous. It doesn't do to marry the person you met last week, or to make changes to institutions without careful thought. It is a major booboo to jump on one's hobbyhorse and ride madly off in all directions. We've seen a good bit of excessive speeding in the last few decades, and there's no doubt that that has upset people and done real harm.

But I find that when I'm behind an extremely slow driver, my urge, as soon as I'm not behind him or her any longer, is to put the pedal to the metal. Could it be that excessive speeding might possibly express the frustration of someone who's been stuck behind a crawling backhoe hogging the highway for the last 15 miles or kilometers? Perhaps impatience is sometimes a character flaw, but sometimes a natural response?

And the same goes for caution: there's an important distinction to make between caution based on fear or unwillingness to grow and change, on one hand, and caution based on prudence on the other. (Mind you, just as all speeders see speeding as a natural response and perfectly okay, so do all slowpokes see slowness as prudence, even when it obviously isn't.)

In churches, we need both sorts: people to push down on the accelerator, and people to keep one toe firmly on the brakes. To live this way means accepting living in tension: the speeders aren't going to be able to go as fast as they want, but neither are the brakers able to go less than half the speed limit. Church is the body of Christ, but it is also a living institution just as the body of Christ on earth was living, turning over, replacing each and every cell once every seven years. Even trees that grow slowly do grow; even if they are mature and not apparently shooting up, they are losing and replenishing their leaves either yearly or continually. Nothing alive is really static, because a living system in stasis is dead. Period.

We have to live with each other: Rocks, who look to tradition and treasure continuity and stability; and Pilgrims who look to the future and treasure responsiveness and inclusiveness. We need both sorts, to keep the canoe in trim. Each of us needs our opposite, however little we like having to deal with people who believe the converse of what we believe. We need complementation, not reinforcement of our own prejudices. And that means that we must accept--as we so seldom do--that just maybe, the other guy's got something important to say, and we should be listening instead of waiting our chance to counterattack.

Living in tension is difficult. We've been accused of fence sitting; but sitting on a fence is intensely uncomfortable, while pure certainty that I'm Right and the other guy is Wrong is so very much easier and more comfortable. It doesn't occur to us that maybe living in tension is spiritually far healthier than living in easy certitude. In fact, we judge the fence-sitters as wusses who can't commit or even make up their minds, instead of seeing them as those who are up on that painful rail because they see value in both sides of the argument and respect the people holding divergent views. Living in tension says "I don't have all the answers" and is therefore a form of real humility, while having all the answers is really a form of spiritual pride, the granddaddy of the Seven Deadlies. Or so I believe, anyway.

I value most of all those reasonable, thoughtful, caring people who take a position across the table from mine, although I can't deal with people who hold my position in evident contempt--who won't even sit down at the table with me, because they're already completely convinced that theirs is the only valid position and association with such as me (I?) is spiritually polluting. (Anyone who thinks that way should go read 1 Corinthians 13.9-10.) It's not the lack of unanimity that tears a church apart. It's the wanton disrespect for the other person's point of view. And that occurs on both sides of the table.

If you read this and look across the table yelling "Yes! I'm right! You're wrong! I'm vindicated!" then sit right back down again. Wolf's First Law of Sin: If you see a louse in someone else's hair, immediately check your own scalp for nits of the same species. If you think the other guy is going too slow, ask yourself if perhaps you're going too fast. If you think the other guy is going too fast, ask yourself if perhaps you're going too slow.

I know that I tend to speed, and I may have to be reminded to lighten up on the accelerator, especially when a Ontario Provincial Police car is lurking beside the highway. But I also know that driving half the speed limit is not, in fact, a safe thing to do. In fact, it's very dangerous, reflecting not proper prudence but a fearfulness that doesn't belong in normal traffic at all.

For the time being, as long as the winter-timids are out, maybe I should walk downtown. Not a bad idea, anyway. Better for the environment and what's left of my figure.

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 18 Mar 2000
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