Non-corresponding cruise

July 14, 2014

This past week my family and I were on the road. We drove across the prairies, from our home in Alberta to a conference being held in Winnipeg. It’s an odd kind of gathering where most of the people you see are happy to be there but not at all excited about the task at hand. I was in the same boat; there were people I was looking forward to seeing, and the worship and celebration parts are always uplifting, but I carried little enthusiasm for the discernment portion of the assembly. (One of the speakers would later poke fun at our group, suggesting that ‘discernment’ was really just a euphemism for what we were actually doing, fighting.)

I’m not a fan of conflict of any kind, and so I approach this kind of conversation with dread. In years past we’ve debated what we do (or should) believe in common. This year’s approach was more along the lines of what it means to have unity when we don’t have uniformity of belief. I was much happier with this approach, but I was still not looking forward to the process.

I’ve driven across the prairies before, and once again I came to appreciate the beauty of the scenery, the charm of the various small towns and the simplicity of rural lifestyle. I mulled all this over while I drove, and as I drove, as sometimes happens, the trip became a metaphor for the destination itself.

I was also reminded again though of the frustrations of long distance driving. We all know the anxiety of sharing the road with people driving much faster than we want to, those people who follow too close and pressure us to speed up only to eventually pass us wrecklessly swerving from one lane to another with no apparent regard for their own safety or the safety of other people on the road, not to mention their complete disregard for the law that governs the roads. Some of us also know the impatience that can develop within us when we share the road with people who drive much slower than we want to. While the rest of us have places to go and timelines to keep, these people sit in their cars oblivious to the realities of the world outside their usually old and poorly maintained vehicles.

This time though, I found myself unusually able to extend grace to those drivers. The people driving too fast may very well have had a good reason to be moving with that kind of urgency. Maybe they’ve been driving like that for a long time and their skills and reflexes have adjusted to make them well suited for that pace. They were probably operating from a timeline that was entirely different from mine. Either way they were quickly past me and no longer a concern to me.  The people driving too slow were often carrying a heavier load and sometimes the vehicles they were travelling in weren’t equipped for highway speed.  Over time I’ve come to appreciate the people who follow the rules, as legalistic as it may seem to the rest of us, and make a safer world for the rest of us.

There’s almost a kind of community feeling that develops among people who drive the same speed. When I see a fast car off in the distance pull into the passing lane, it’s probably to get around a car like me. Inevitably I catch up to a slow car and I congregate with other cars begrudgingly graciously waiting for their turn to pass. Especially on the prairies, you can drive a long ways with other cars. It isn’t a stretch to imagine that you could drive for an hour or two with the same vehicle(s) in your line of sight, which can be oddly comforting on an otherwise lonely trip. You also get to know a lot about these people as you drive near them for a long time, you might get to know their eating habits, their music listening (and singing) habits and some of their bumpter-stickered political affiliations. The road would be a safer, and I think friendlier place if we all drove exactly the same speed.

On this particular trip, I started to find myself getting annoyed by the people driving my speed, mostly because it turns out they weren’t driving my speed. I had set my cruise control at a consistent speed, and still sometimes the cars that I had passed would pass me again, and again. Sometimes I had adjusted my cruise to stay with a particular group, and then their speed would fluctuate too. I could no longer count on people driving consistently 5 km/h over the speed limit. I could no longer find comfort in other people approaching the road the same way that I did.

There is science at work here. No matter how much people or machines try to keep their vehicles at the same speed, there will always be fluctations.  You may have recognized a while ago I wasn’t just talking about cars anymore, but that the journey to the conference was a metaphor for the conference, and life itself. The task to get everyone to drive the same speed will always be futile. The challenge instead is to pick your own speed and then drive responsibly and with integrity.

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