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- Added March 8th, 2016
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THE TYRANNY OF DISTANCE
By George Davis in All Sorts
a very inciteful discussion on our distance must be bridged between cultures, past and present times, Christian tradition and present faith, and bewteen what I should be and what I am; the distance leads to strangeness and discomfort and challenges us to see meaning for the present and the future.THE TYRANNY OF DISTANCE
Just recently the representative of a commemorative organisation in Brisbane invited Judy and me to attend the unveiling of a new memorial. The memorial will be erected in Kangaroo Point Park next to St. Mary's Anglican Church and is planned to be unveiled on Friday 22 April this year. It is a great privilege to be asked to attend as the memorial is dedicated to Canon David Garland, the Australian "Architect of Anzac Day." The memorial is named "Canon David Garland - Anzac Day Origins" after the title of the book I co-wrote with Professor John Moses of Canberra. The letter of invitation mentions the "tyrannies of distance", thus acknowledging the difficulties of travel from southern New Zealand.
This phrase stuck in my mind and over ten days or so uncovered new inferences. Not only are we humans tasked with covering the tyranny of distance every time we travel but also the real tyranny of encountering other cultures and understanding past times. In a sense, coming to grips with modern interpretations of the Bible or of present Christian faith is rather like that leap we all make if we go somewhere foreign, like to any Asian country, or to Turkey or Russia. We have to expect a certain amount of strangeness, even discomfort. The food is different, the climate, the clothes and smells are different. It is simplistic to think everywhere else is just a reflection of our own country. We have tastes of other cultures in Dunedin - the food shops - Turkish, Japanese, Korean, Thai, etc - but these are only tastes. To indulge ourselves and really learn we have first to be ready for difference, to overcome the physical tyranny of distance and go to these places. Once there, we must participate in the tastes, the sounds, the local language, the dress (sometimes), and the culture of that place: the learning is total. Otherwise, we run the risk of having gone to some strange place, but because of our lack of self-confidence, to have only seen the place from our own narrow perspective.
Learning about a past time, and seeing meaning in it for the present and future demands the same total immersion. Biblical studies let us glimpse a window into the Israelite and New Testament past. But this is only an exercise rather like staring into a shop window to find what a product is like, perhaps rather like staring through a glass darkly. It is a great and severely testing thing to take the step of trying to live the Christian life as we think Christ would have us do. It demands both understanding based on learning, and commitment to what you believe to be the right path. It takes belief and self-understanding. It demands that we overcome the historical distance of the 2000 years since the life of Christ and take those things which are good and necessary to faith and belief and use them in our present lives.
Often I find myself falling woefully short of what I think is needed of me as a Christian. The distance between what should happen and what happens is in me - it is metaphorical, and cannot be weighed or seen. But I know it is there. At times like that I look at what fellow travellers in the Christian life are doing and find myself short of the mark. However, I do not want to go around as if wearing a placard which says "I am a Christian." It might invite the retort today "so what?" Yet at other times as in recently, while overcoming a bout of illness I have sometimes felt strangely quiet as if knowing that things might get worse but in the end that does not matter, it is not a matter for despair. The tyranny of distance does not seem so harsh then.
There exists another curious matter of distance. In this case it is the distance, to use old-fashioned language, between thee and me. Indeed, it appears most unusual, that the greatest tyranny of distance is that of misunderstanding. Simply put, two neighbours or families may dislike each other because of complete misunderstanding of what the other believes or thinks is important or to be true. It's almost a case of O'Reilly's law of converse: the closer you think are, the greater the chance of violent disagreement erupting. This happens particularly over perceived slights. Perhaps this is where 'turning the other cheek
comes into play'. Or as one of my friends is fond of saying "It's all a matter of communication, George."
The most profound distance is internal: the distance between what I should do or be, and what I actually do or am. This has to be resolved. It is as true as when Robert Burns wrote,
I wad some giftie gie us, to see oursel's as other see us. T'wad from many a blunder and foolish notion free us.
Clarity over who we are is helpful for recognising ourselves, but also for how we seem to others. But it also has another redeeming feature - it challenges indecision. It frees us to truly be who we want to be, and to act. In the high school I attended as a student the motto was Esse Quam Videre which loosely translated means It is better to be, than just appear to be. Consequently we have a moral imperative plus a self realisation to follow the Christian way.
The Christian life does contain anomalies and difficulties: the mysticism of the past is missing; science seems to be providing far too many answers; the language of the Book does seem dated (but no more than Shakespeare's); the trials of the world don't seem to diminish despite the best efforts of worthy men and women. The point which is being missed here is that the trials of life which were present in Christ's life are still present today. The evils of greed, callousness, poverty, brutality, unequal sharing of the wealth of the nations, political indifference and self-service are as much part of our world as they were in Christ's life.
Maybe the worst tyranny is just one of indifference, to assume that it's all too much. But isn't that missing the point. Christ's injunction to followers was to act and to bridge the tyranny of distance.
George Davis. Dunedin, 2 March 2016.