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Hallo again to all.

A car washThis afternoon, driving home from church, we took the car through an automatic car wash. If you've not experienced one of these, it is an open-ended building through which you drive a car with the windows carefully closed. Various machinery squirts water and soap and wax at the car from all sides, and robotic arms with brushes or cloth pads do the scrubbing and wiping.

If you've been in a car inside an automatic car wash, you've probably noticed that it's easy to lose, completely, your sense of where you are and whether or not you are moving. All of the visual cues indicate that the car is moving, and the machinery makes it rumble as if it were moving. But it isn't moving. The brakes are set and the transmission is in neutral.

It becomes a matter of faith. As an experienced car-wash customer, that experience enables faith that your car isn't moving. But even if your faith is strong, it's hard not to check the brakes or the transmission, to bolster your faith.

This example also demonstrates that motion is relative. Am I moving forward, or is the rest of the universe moving backward? Intellectually we understand that motion is relative, but it doesn't seem to matter very often, and we forget. There is something very basic about knowing where you are, whether or not you are moving, and, if you are moving, how and where and when you will stop moving*. There is a strong sense of safety in constancy, and a strong opportunity for fear in motion.

The globalisation of our world has exposed a human need for constancy that was perhaps not as evident in past centuries. One reason why Starbucks coffee, McDonalds hamburgers, or Trusthouse Forte hotels are so globally pervasive is that entrepreneurs learned that people would pay premium prices for something that was the same as 'back home'. And the locals might pay the same premium prices for something that was exotically foreign.

As our sense of safety in constancy is challenged by changes all around us, our initial reaction is similar to the car wash: 'Am I moving, or is something else moving while I remain still?' Regardless of what is moving, the emotional impact is the same, and the palliative to the discomfort of that impact seems not to depend on the answer. The solution is to have faith. If your world is moving, and another one is still, or if that world is moving, and yours is still, the path to normalcy is still to have faith in that which is yours.

But imagine being on a train that seems to be moving, and making eye contact with a person on the next train, which seems to be moving the other way, and realising that both of you have faith that it is your train that is still while the other is moving? What should you do? We recommend that you open the book that is in your lap and start reading it. As long as you're aboard your train, it doesn't really matter whether that other one is moving, does it?

See you next week. Right here.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 7 November 2004

*This phenomenon affects other kinds of moving: we have just removed from Ithaca, New York to Burlington, New Jersey, and the sense of disorientation is overwhelming. Now where ever is the box that has our keyboard in it?

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©2004 Society of Archbishop Justus