Remember the actor Gregory Peck in the classic film To Kill a Mockingbird? As Atticus Finch, the lawyer who defends Tom Robinson, a black man falsely convicted of rape, he is the epitome of cool. I don’t mean the kind of cool that comes from being the most popular person in town. In fact, he is vilified for representing a black man in his small Southern town. Atticus’s kind of cool comes from an inner stability that radiates outward, with the potential to transform the situation.
This kind of stability is what would-be pastors learn about in seminary—the ability to maintain a “non-anxious presence” in the midst of a conflict. I like that phrase because it highlights an ideal I’m still striving for. When my children are arguing, I’d like to help them calm down by maintaining my own sense of inner peace. When my mother has surgery, I’d like to be able to help her by staying calm myself. When I disagree with someone, I’d like to do so in a way that builds peace rather than destroys it.
To say that I want to learn how to maintain a non-anxious presence is simply another way of saying I want to be more like Christ. Think about all the times he radiated peace when others around him were falling apart. He told a group of mourners that the little girl who died was only asleep, and then he brought her back to life (see Mark 5:38-42). He quieted a storm at sea while his disciples were panicking (see Matthew 8:24-26). He reassured his disciples of his gift of peace shortly before his death (see John 14:27-30).
I wish I could tell you I have learned how to stay cool no matter what happens, but that would not be true. Yet if God is the one who comforts us in all our troubles, surely he can express that comfort through imperfect people like you and me. More