Consider what it would be like to travel at a speed of 900 km/h: one could travel into the city in less than a minute. Speaking from experience, travelling at that speed is no consolation when you are crammed in like a sardine next to a complete stranger who is sound asleep and blocking your way to the toilet while you still have a further five hours to your destination! Thankfully the stewardesses come around with drinks, waking your neighbour… but block the way to the toilet with their trolley!

In space, astronauts travel at speeds of around 20,000 km/h, taking three hours to travel once around the earth, yet are hours from touching down on terra firma. Which brings into focus a very interesting concept. When one looks out of the window of a plane, there seems to be little indication of movement (although there is nothing like a little turbulence to shake that misconception). A smooth flight can lull one into a sense of stability whilst vast distances are covered. If one can somehow negotiate themselves comfortably in a seat designed only for someone who needs some serious physiotherapy or corrective surgery, it would be possible to fall asleep just after take-off and wake up on the other side of the globe without being aware of moving. The continuous nature of the change taking place outside the plane, coupled with the stability inside masks the incredible shift occurring.

In some ways this reminds me of what church life can be like: we sit in rather unchanging surroundings week by week, inured against the rapid changes taking place around us in the surrounding community. When we open the doors to disembark, we find ourselves confronting a very different world from the one where we boarded. And if we actually take the time to get out of our hotels, we struggle to connect in ways which allow us to travel with others in the spiritual journey.
Because the changes around us are often foreign to our thinking, we begin to believe that God is only found inside the church. We have lost ways of connecting with God in the culture of the local community. We struggle to encounter God in contemporary music and media, as well as in places of work and recreation. Our faith dis-integrates because we have lost its connection with life in general.

But that need not be the final conclusion. The experience of culture shock is a transitory one, the traveler soon emerging to appreciate the beauty of the culture in which they have found themselves transplanted. And as alien as we might find the expressions of wider culture to those inside the church, we are able to learn to see God at work in the community about us. But our expressions of faith, and our perspective on the wider world need to be transformed by the Spirit of God.

September 2, 2001
Back to the Home Page
To the Being Human Index
To the next article

feedback to the author