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Learning From the Laws of Physics

Who’s ready for a physics lesson?

Isaac Newton, the 17th-century British physicist, astronomer and mathematician widely recognized as one of the most influential scientists of all time, articulated some fundamental principles of our physical universe. Among them is a rule that has come to be known as Newton’s First Law of Motion. It states, in part, that an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an [outside] force.

You may not remember the specifics of Newton’s Law from your high school physics class (full disclosure: I had to look it up). But you’re most familiar with how it operates in the real world. It takes a lot more effort to get something moving than to keep it moving. And restarting something that has stopped takes extra effort too.

Newton’s law specifically mentions objects, but I’m pretty sure it also applies to people. And although he intended it as a statement of fact about the physical world, I believe it applies to our psychological and emotional lives as well. It’s extraordinarily difficult to get anyone to change the way they think, believe or act. And once someone has stopped doing something, it takes a lot of effort to get them to start again.

And so we find ourselves at the end of 2021, in the waning days of a global pandemic, facing the daunting task of getting faith-based groups traveling again.

Church travel never stopped completely; some church groups traveled throughout 2020, and more took to the road this year as vaccines and improved COVID-19 treatments made people feel safer. But many previously active groups haven’t traveled anywhere since March 2020. And they’re the ones Newton was telling us about.

I don’t blame anyone for taking a cautious approach to COVID-19, especially early on when information was scarce. But it’s time to recognize that the pandemic situation has changed dramatically and to undertake the work of restarting travel programs that have been at rest for a year and a half.

Public health experts have largely come to the consensus that COVID-19 will be an endemic part of our viral landscape, probably forever. But thanks to widespread vaccination, the coronavirus no longer represents a deadly threat. Most vaccinated people who do contract infections will experience only mild illness — if they experience any symptoms at all.

By now, most adults and children in America who want the vaccine have received it. You and your church travelers are as safe as you want to be. What, exactly, is there left to wait for?

Newton said that objects at rest stay at rest unless acted on by another force. So consider this column a gentle nudge to try to get your travel program moving again.

But don’t restart just because I say so. Think about the impact your travel program has had on your faith community in the past. And then imagine the impact it can have in the future. 

After almost two years of fear and isolation, people need hope and community now more than ever. And I can’t think of a better way to provide that than through travel. 

It will take some effort to overcome the fear and inertia holding people back — or even holding you back. But once you do, you’ll rediscover all the reasons you love travel, and your church group will, too.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.