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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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12.08.2022

The Tyranny of Distance

Earlier this year, Qantas announced that passengers will soon be able to fly from Heathrow to Sydney in a direct, twenty-hour flight. ‘It’s the last frontier and the final fix for the tyranny of distance,’ proclaimed the CEO.

Of course, the far side of the world is not any closer, really – but we’ll get there faster! And in the story that Qantas’ CEO wants to tell, that’s a victory. Distance is an oppressive tyrant, forcibly extracting our precious time and effort from us when all we want is to be on our summer holidays already. But now, we have been liberated from life’s slow lane! It’s time to ‘dream bigger, fly further, and create a brighter future together’ (in Australia, presumably).

This appears to be good news for anyone like me. I prefer to cycle instead of walk, since speed walking isn’t as socially acceptable as it should be. And driving gets me places even quicker if it comes to it, which it often does. A direct flight to Sydney? Check me in.

Sometimes though, I find myself thinking about where I need to be next more than where I am now. I tend to be less than fully present with the people and tasks in front of me. It seems like the faster I’ve learned to go and the more I’ve been able to cram in, the more I’ve felt the need to do and the faster I’ve wanted to cram it.

There’s a tyranny at work here, for sure. But it’s not the one Qantas claim to have overthrown. I know this because despite doing my best to ruthlessly eliminate it, I find myself under its coercive power. Its name is Hurry.

And then, I think about Jesus’ ability to entirely opt out of hurry. Walking was his preferred method of travel, allowing him to notice more of the world and how it spoke of God. He invited his followers to take his yoke and go at his pace.

If we learn his ways, we can not only call out the stories that airline CEOs tell. We can quietly, but defiantly, push back. By lingering a little longer with friends. By talking rather than emailing. By choosing the checkout staffed by a person rather than a machine. With acts like these, Jesus’ followers form a resistance movement against the tyranny of hurry, and tell a better story while they do it.

A brighter future might really await.

Tim Yearsley
Head of Innovation, LICC

Comments

  1. Thanks Tim, Great reflection. As a fellow wander-luster with a penchant for traveling ever-faster, I also feel the lure of hurry and struggle to slow down. Just reading Amor Towles’s modern classic, ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’, I was stopped in my tracks by this wonderful passage…

    Count Rostov, the protagonist, is confined to live in the one hotel for the rest of his days after the Bolshevik Revolution. How boring! And yet he had trained for this his whole life, with an attitude that prized progress at a pedant’s pace. In slowing down and learning to be truly present, he discovers the glory in the mundane and the mystery of genuine face-to-face encounters with our neighbours when we dare to linger:

    When the Count was a young man, he prided himself on the fact that he was unmoved by the ticking of the clock. In the early years of the twentieth century, there were those of his acquaintance who brought a new sense of urgency to their slightest endeavor. They timed the consumption of their breakfast, the walk to their office, and the hanging of their hat on its hook with as much precision as if they were preparing for a military campaign. They answered the phone on the first ring, scanned the headlines, limited their conversations to whatever was most germane, and generally spent their days in pursuit of the second hand. God bless them.

    For his part, the Count had opted for the life of the purposefully unrushed. Not only was he disinclined to race toward some appointed hour—disdaining even to wear a watch—he took the greatest satisfaction when assuring a friend that a worldly matter could wait in favor of a leisurely lunch or a stroll along the embankment. After all, did not wine improve with age? Was it not the passage of years that gave a piece of furniture its delightful patina?

    When all was said and done, the endeavors that most modern men saw as urgent (such as appointments with bankers and the catching of trains), probably could have waited, while those they deemed frivolous (such as cups of tea and friendly chats) had deserved their immediate attention. Cups of tea and friendly chats! the modern man objects. If one is to make time for such idle pursuits, how could one ever attend to the necessities of adulthood?

    Luckily, the answer to this conundrum was provided by the philosopher Zeno in the fifth century b.c. Achilles, a man of action and urgency, trained to measure his exertions to the tenth of a second, should be able to quickly dispense with a twenty-yard dash. But in order to advance a yard, the hero must first advance eighteen inches; and in order to advance eighteen inches, he must first advance nine; but to advance nine, he must first advance four and a half, and so on. Thus, on his way to completing the twenty-yard dash, Achilles must traverse an infinite number of lengths—which, by definition, would take an infinite amount of time. By extension (as the Count had liked to point out), the man who has an appointment at twelve has an infinite number of intervals between now and then in which to pursue the satisfactions of the spirit. Quod erat demonstrandum.

    By Dr Dave Benson, LICC Director of Culture and Discipleship  -  12 Aug 2022
  2. Matt 11:29 (The Message): Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
    There are times when Peterson gets it right on the nail

    By Betty  -  12 Aug 2022
  3. …not to mention global warming…

    By Martin Tiller  -  12 Aug 2022
  4. In the 1930’s at the start of commercial aviation to Australia the” Kangaroo Route” was created a series of six or seven stops where passengers stayed overnight in an hotel. The journey then took nearly a week.
    its only since the Boeing 747 in the 1970’s that a one of two stop journey has been possible and now the A350 Ultra Long Range will offer a 20 hour Sydney to London non stop. However 50% of the cost will be fuel. How much will be sustainable aviation fuel is still being worked on. By 2026 there will be 19 seater battery powered aircraft but they will have limited range so using one to Sydney would need a return to slow flying. However hydrogen powered flight by 2040 may even allow long range sustainable flying

    By David  -  12 Aug 2022
  5. Thanks for this. I think we shouldn’t let such an unfortunate statement by Qantas pass without also mentioning the impact of flying on global heating, which is making the long term future more uncomfortable for all of us, especially those nearer the equator. Flying is largely a rich world thing; four fifths of the world’s population have never flown. The statement is part of the lamentable philosophy that we can just go on consuming without consequences. Learning to notice, love and appreciate people, places & things closer to hand – that, as the pandemic should have taught us, is part of the route to a more sustainable happiness.

    By Bruce Gulland  -  12 Aug 2022

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