A theology of travel: summary so far

So far in our theology of travel:

  • We’ve experienced the thrills and joys of travel being declared “good” by God
  • We’ve felt the fallen-ness of travel in the loneliness and fragility of it all
  • And we’ve now countered the claim that travel should help us restore our faith in the goodness of humanity
  • We’ve painted a picture that we’re made for more than just travel in this world and seen that the New Heavens and New earth that we’re made for is an even sweeter song to our ears than the current one
  • And we’ve just gone out and got some top practical tips for travel, as the Bible is not a travel handbook!  Photos can be found largely under the “Cork” category on the sidebar or by searching for “Ireland”.

But in every theology of travel, it should not only be guided by God’s revelation of Himself (primarily in the Scriptures), but it should be cross-shaped and cross-centred, for that is exactly what the Christian message revolves around.

I was sent Francis and Lisa Chan’s book on marriage by a friend recently (recommended for people even like me, who don’t have marriage on the horizon any time soon).  I came across this:

“’Christians’ have come up with clever ways to explain why the followers of a suffering servant should live like Kings.”

What does a travelling suffering servant look like?

Well, as we attempt to submit not only our answers/experiences to the scriptures, but also to let the scriptures shape our questions, over the coming months we may take a look at some of this:

All a grand auld plan, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m back on the road for most of my working term.  In the meantime, if you know of anything good to read on the topic, do get in touch.  And if you really don’t think it matters, check out this!

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Lichfield, England 04/01/17

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Stepping outside of the Bubble

[Marie-Louise Disant has been helpfully guiding us through a series on travel from a female perspective.  You can find the rest of her posts here.]

As a Christian, it’s so easy to be engulfed into a Christian “bubble”. Although I cherish the moments I get to spend with people I love, it’s very easy to just relax into that context and not question it anymore. Spend a significant amount of time with anyone and just like rolling two different colours of Play-Doh together, you’ll see that the two become harder and harder to distinguish from one another.

Although there most definitely is value in spending time with other Christians, sometimes you need to step outside of the bubble. I would argue there is equal value in spending just as much time with non-Christians, perhaps even travelling with people with a worldview different to our own!

Quality over quantity

After trying the travel-for-the-sake-of-travel, stereotypical backpacker-in-hostel method, I found that I wasn’t really connecting with all or even any of my dorm-mates (bar the odd exception, like that night in Berlin with the bouncer’s dodgy directions and the pretty back-alley garden bar. Or the night with the giant salad and the crazy Brazilian. But those are stories for another day…). Travel can be such a wonderful opportunity to connect with people from such different walks of life, if only you put a little effort and intent into it.

As this didn’t seem to be a good fit, I decided to go for an option that may bring less new friends my way, but rather ones I might really get to know: CouchSurfing! One such rencontre was with my dear friend M.

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Friend at first word

M.’s CouchSurfing profile immediately struck a chord with me. What’s the equivalent to love at first sight for wanting to befriend someone at the first word you read of theirs; friend at first word? She was looking to learn more about food, something I love and know a good deal about. I wanted to learn more about sustainability, something she loves and knows a lot about. It seemed like the perfect match for the seasons we were both in! We exchanged a few messages and before I knew it, I was knocking on a perfect stranger’s door.

Learning transcultural and transcontinental friendship

Fast forward 5 years and we’re still in touch, and have travelled together on two different continents and shared more than I could ever have imagined! Nurturing a long-distance friendship can seem hard, but it’s often just about the little things; a call at important times of the year, a postcard from a place you’d talked of seeing together (actually going together to places you talked of seeing one day), a handwritten letter every now and then…

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M. brought me on my very first “fin de marché” experience. We collected all the unsold fruit and veg at the end of the local farmer’s market and wade ourselves a delicious, zero-waste, local, free meal! 
France, 2015 – © Marie-Louise Disant

I may not always succeed in being the friend she needs, but if you aim for the top rung of the ladder, you’ll at the very least reach the halfway mark. I hope I’m at least a little closer to being the friend she needs than if I didn’t try at all. Travel in any form will bring scores of opportunities to meet new people; young and old, from all cultures and walks of life. It’s then up to us to make the most of those opportunities, and decide with whom we will be more intentional about maintaining a solid friendship long after we first meet.

When opposites attract

M and I may have completely different views and opinions, but it turns out these very differences are what led us to the plethora of wonderful experiences and conversations we have shared so far. What started off as an exchange on our respective eating habits and knowledge on sustainability, progressively lead to an exchange on our unique cultural and spiritual experiences.

Sometimes, a little meeting with Ms. or Mr. Different is exactly what we need.

Sometimes, seeing someone else’s viewpoint helps us better understand our own.

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Another adventure M. brought me on, lead us to an island off the coast of Brazil. 
Without her, I may never have gone to South America – a wonderful experience that broadened both my taste buds and my worldview.
Brasil, 2016 – © Marie-Louise Disant

Engaging with M.’s worldview brought me to question mine; why do I believe what I believe, rather than what M. believes? What if her worldview explained life better than mine; what if she had better answers to difficult life questions?

The questions she asked on my worldview lead me to research the historical evidence for Jesus, and the cultural context of the various epochs referred to within the Bible, amongst other topics. They helped me reaffirm my faith in Jesus and who He is (John 3:16), know better why I believe what I believe, and explain more readily why I believe what I believe (1 Peter 3:15).

Our friendship (and others similar to it in diversity) has helped me stand more firmly on my own two feet, regarding my faith, and the reasons for it. She has reminded me of why I follow Jesus and strive to keep Him as Lord over all of my life.

Do you or would you spend time/travel/live with someone with a completely different worldview to your own? Why or why not? In the words of this blog’s author, let’s grab a pint or a cuppa sometime, so you can share your thoughts on this too!

Travelling the world to share…

“I shared the gospel with someone tonight as I travelled through China”

Ah, good, I guess.  Well done!

There are a few reasons why I’m never generally jumping up and down at such statements evangelism while travelling.

Why?

Well by “sharing the gospel” people from my circles generally mean this:

“whatever short summary of the good news they have rote-learnt from memory and just divulged over someone in six sentence summary format”

For everyone that will have limitations:

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  1. Cultural

For many westerners, they come from cultures which delight in direct communication.  Does my bum look big in this?  Well, yes, yes it does (ok, that’s an extreme but…).  “Telling it straight” to someone will evoke a sense of truth and in many, pride.

But to those who do not come from a “direct” culture, they are often deeply offended at such directness and pressing them to respond individualistically to a set of western-orientated presuppositions.  Particularly when it is in front of a group – the honour of their intelligence, worldview, friendships and whole way of thinking could be at stake.  It makes them recoil from even considering what the person is talking about, because the means embodying it is so shameful.

2. Theological

Many protestant cultures also are shaped by a guilt/innocence worldview where we describe our short summary in terms of God creating us, us doing wrong, feeling guilty, Jesus being innocent, Him taking our punishment, dying on a cross to make us forgiven and legally right before God, and Him coming back again for those who how have His righteousness.  Other western ways of sharing things might be along the lines of “Two ways to live” or “Four Spiritual Laws” or others such thinking.

But what about someone who has never thought too much about guilt or innocence, but is steeped everyday in the shame of not living up to familial, social, and cultural expectations or is craving the honour of the elder person they really respect?  That guilt/innocence presentation will have completely not connected with them, most likely.  In fact, it might take them one step closer to thinking God has little to do with their life and problems.

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TRAPPED!  In our cultural way of thinking.

Despite both of these, I would want to make two push back points:

Don’t let these negative experiences of short pithy gospel presentations push you into silence.  So often I can be so judgemental of how others do things, that I never speak, or never thank God that He uses (and has used) me even in my frailest of moments and stupid actions, to work for His glory.  Surely that is the Bible’s emphasis and should be our emphasis.

Gospel summaries are fab!  And I encourage all my students to learn one or more, so that they can snappily summarise what they think and believe.  It helped me spiritually, more than I’ve ever been able to share it!  But like anything in life, they’re not the golden bullet.  They all have weaknesses, all fail to convey lots, and depending on who you’re standing before can be (my old supervisor used to say,) like:

Frodo in the Lord of the Rings coming into an Ethiopian café when the football is on TV.  He shouts “Come Celebrate with me!!  The ring that was lost is now found and we are on our way again to Mount Doom where it can be destroyed and we can all be free!  Join us on our journey.”  To the Ethiopians, they have either no concept (or twisted ones) of all of those words/phrases, haven’t a clue what weird creature is excitedly speaking to them about this strange thing, and wouldn’t know what the journey looks like anyway.  And so they go back to watching football on the TV.

You see, Christ’s Lordship cannot be communicated in six sentences!  The everlasting and infinite God has chosen (in His wisdom) to reveal Himself using the frailty of human words, spoken into a particular culture at a particular time.  He has done it at that length and meant to do it so, because He knows best.

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And it’s wonderful.  The fact that He is Lord means that regardless of what I am talking about or doing, that a gospel of His Lordship is hovering over it.  I am as close to His Lordship as I am talking about brushing my teeth, as I am when I share my six sentence gospel summary.  Because ultimately He is Lord over teeth-brushing!  I am either doing it for His glory, or I am doing it from duty (good or bad) or legalistically doing it out of service to another god.  He is returning to bring us to a land where no decay or tooth-brushing will be needed!  Cheesey, but an example of how close things are to everyday situations that people can relate to!

So what does this look like in reality?

Well, let’s get this straight.  I don’t want to say that we must learn every culture and their way of speaking and acting, so that we become experts to all cultures.  Some gifted evangelists may think that’s what being “all things to all men” (2 Cor 9) is about but I think I disagree.  It’s impossible.  You can’t expect everyone to have cultural awareness of every culture.  Perhaps to specialise in knowing one cultural background, maybe.  But not that everyone will master everything.  Why do I say this?

Well, in me moving to Cork, I was moving from a British guilt/innocence culture to an Irish shame/honour culture (not to the same extent as Middle Eastern, but still massively moreso than British).  Now I have one of two choices: stay living in guilt/innocence culture, or try and get used to shame/honour culture.  And whichever I choose, I will alienate others and resonate more deeply with some.  It’s a choice that take a lot of time normally.  But I can’t live out both worldviews, unless I segregate relationships and all of my life.  I can be culturally aware of the clashes, but I cannot live both.

I am naturally inculturated.

I cannot sit above culture.

I am human.

Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures (Book review, IVP Academic, 2016)

I sat in the Christian Union (non-denominational campus ministry) missions committee meeting in my own house, just like every month of every semester.  But now, more than ever before, it all made sense.  This is why people were acting like this!

We had begun at 7pm with a meal.  I say “began” rather loosely.  Because at 7pm, the only one who’d shown up was the British student.  The Irish trundled in a little later, bringing a Germanic student with them (who didn’t know the way).  By 7.50pm, we were settling down to tea, coffee and dessert, and I was mightily impressed at how quickly things were moving.

Until the Germanic lady startled the room and drew everyone quiet:

“When are we starting the meeting?”

Many puzzled faces.

“I mean, I will have to leave soon” she said.

“When do you need to leave?” I asked.

“Uh, I guess pretty soon”.

And so with that knowledge, I “started” the meeting.  The fact that this was the first meeting of a committee, and that she didn’t know anyone yet, didn’t strike her as needing all this social faff before the meeting “proper”.  Nor did being in a culture that hugely values people, connections and relational life.

“Say who you are, what you study, where you’re from and why you wanted to be on the missions committee.”

And so we went round the room.  Much to the visible distress of the British, the answers to why they wanted to be on missions committee, were nothing to do with mission!

“I thought it’d be good craic” (x2)

“I wanted to be more involved in the community here in CU” (x3)

“Er, well, I think mission is great, and God has commanded it, so I want to reach the campus with the good news of Jesus” he said.

Silence.

Before the final person quickly took up the reins and said that they were there for the craic too.  Phew.  Awkward serious moment resolved.

Shortly afterwards, the Germanic lady got up and left.

“What was up with her?” said one of the Irish students, there for the craic.  “Is she not keen on this whole missions week thing?”


Culture is a baffling thing!  And the fact that the Bible was written by humans in a particular culture may not appear to immediately help the issue.  That evening to look at Acts 17, we first needed to see what culture the author was writing into.  Then from there, we needed to assess what culture we sit in, and then hardest of all, make the bridge from one culture to the other.

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The simplest of tasks like walking past a graveyard, becomes a complicated action when you’ve people from different cultural frameworks there!

The tricky thing about culture is that we all think we’re Biblical.  Because we read scripture through our own lenses.  Nigerians will always declare the Irish to not be passionate about faith at all (as you’ll see in this interview here).  British will always find the Irish not to be direct enough about an urgent proclamation of the gospel.  Americans will find the relational way of going about things to be the most unproductive, nepotistic way of doing life possible.  And those from Germany find the Irish to be quite two-faced…saying “yes” to things and yet not actually appearing to do them, or to turn up at all.

Are the Irish just a horrible bunch of people, in a culture seething with horrid practices?

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Because no Irish sign will ever directly tell you to do something….without at least making a joke about it.

Well, given I’m an Irishman writing this blog, I guess you may anticipate my response.  But this book (yes, we finally are getting to it), is one that will help anyone thinking through these questions or similar ones.

Jayson Georges and Mark D Baker play on years of experience of ministering within shame-honoUr (I insist on the proper spelling, sorry!) cultures.  The whole book is out to persuade us that there are 3 paradigms for culture:

  1. Fear and Power (Often thought to be African, animistic settings with witchdoctors)
  2. Shame and Honour (often considered to be Eastern settings)
  3. Guilt and Innocence (often considered to be Western settings)

And that none of them are “correct” or necessarily better than the other.  Here’s one chart to illustrate how we each think poorly about others who think differently:

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The book weaves in helpful stories from real life, solid handling of Biblical scriptures and texts, and very helpful nuances to their argument.  Here’s 3 things that I found helpful about that.

Firstly all their work was Biblical and opened my eyes (who has been theologically reading endless amounts) to new insights, fresh ways of thinking and things that warmed my heart about the God we serve.  Seeing outside of my own perspective is refreshing and paradigm shifting.  I’ll never be able to look back again.

Secondly their application to culture was very refreshing.  Their principles of what “shame/honour” culture looks like never stayed abstract.  They tell story after story of very helpful tales, all of which resounded with me and made sense.

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Up on top of a mountain with other international students, and I was interrupted by an Irish Aviation Authority tannoy system, telling us that the Gards had been called (in order to shame us into leaving).  The fact that the Gards had clearly not been called, is besides the point.

And thirdly, they always gave caveats to their arguments and never try and broad brushstroke everything.  Because “western” culture is not all guilt-innocence related.  In fact, in Ireland, according to those I’ve had do their test online here, Ireland is a good bit more shame orientated than guilt.  They also made the case that everyone will have some kind of mixture of values, and that it’s impossible to be all things to all men.  The more one delves into a particular framework and lives by it, the more alienating one will be to those of other cultures.  Try and stay separate from everything?  Impossible!  And you’ll only run the rick of not resonating with anyone.

This book is a fantastic point to delve deeper into this key topic, and those around me in Cork will know that it’s impacted me enough that they’ve had to endure me excitedly giving them a running commentary on culture in every gathering we’ve entered for the last few weeks.  However, if you’ve never thought about it before, this will be heavy going and you may prefer to start with reading chapter one, and then seeing for a few months whether you see what they’re talking about, as you look on life with others.

Afro-Irish contextualisation

I met up with one of our graduates the other day to talk about this key topic for the Irish church.  Travel has both caused the “problem” and may also help us solve the “problem”.

We cover:

  • whether racism is an issue in the church?
  • why the church in Ireland is largely split racially
  • what can be done to help this issue?

And much more.  It’s a very basic start to a complex topic.  Check it out here:

On health and travel

Travel is often seen as a survival of the fittest.  The most capable individuals travel, and those who can’t stomach it?  Condemned to life at home.

But here, a friend from back in Belfast writes of how health issues (even longterm ones) don’t have to stop life.  Because life in this broken world is life with suffering.  Not life until we suffer.

Why not read what she’s written here?  And soon, we’ll have some other thoughts from those who either can’t travel because they’re disabled or because they care for disabled people full-time.  Where in a theology of travel do they fit in?

I have umm-ed and aah-ed about whether to write this post, how to write it, where to begin. But sitting here with the closest thing to hindsight I’ve had in a while, I have some thoughts (which may or may not make any sense!), so here goes… Life on pause — what does that look like,…

via LIFE ON PAUSE — ROADS GO EVER ON

Solo Female Travel (part 2)

[Marie-Louise Disant is doing a 5 part series on female travel.  You can find her first two parts here and here and a video interview with her here.]

I am part of a group of partly solo-travelling, exclusively female and mostly francophone backpackers on the internet. We share tips and warnings, and support one another in times of need. Some time earlier this year, one such woman “K” was travelling in Laos. She stayed in a guesthouse, as many of us do.

In the middle of the night, one of the men running the reception desk downstairs tried to come into her room, clothed in only a towel. She got up, grabbed her pepper spray and confronted him, saying she was calling the police. He returned to his room, the door of which was just in front of her own. She called a friend and posted a message on the aforementioned group. The moderator of the group called the embassy, who allegedly said they could do nothing to help if no harm had come to K.

K stayed in her room until sunrise, on the phone with a friend, and keeping the other women in the group up to date in the comments. The next morning, a group of French folk came to collect her at the guesthouse. She eventually made her way to Thailand where she spent time recovering with some friends.

An opportunity for unparalleled selfishness…should we choose to take it.

There’s nothing quite like living and/or travelling alone to show you where your priorities truly lie. When alone, with no one else to get us up in the morning, or to motivate us to hike up a mountain or trek all around a city all day, what we do each day boils down to what we decide. It’s an opportunity for unparalleled selfishness, to pick up a map and head out, or burn it altogether, should we so desire. With no one else there to direct our desires, what will we decide?

What about when you’re travelling alone, in a city in Laos, and you come across a message like the one above? Over 300 comments were written below this post. She had plenty of support, though not all of these came from within Laos. Someone else will help. Will they? How can we be sure? The moderator of the group could have done nothing but post a short comment of support. The group of travellers who came to collect her at daylight, could have continued on their merry travels and not given her a second thought. Her friend could have told her to go back to sleep and hung up. Distance, travel and the internet bring equal amounts of anonymity, what will we choose to do with it?

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The more touristic side of Luang Prabang, Laos: Buddhist morning alms.
2017 – © Marie-Louise Disant

With only God as our witness, what will we choose to do, who will we choose to be?Surrounded by people who don’t know who we’ve been, our past or anything other than the present we’ve shared with them, there is no “reputation” to live up to, no precedent to follow up on. Without people who know us nearby, will we choose to do the right thing, be the right person and stand up for what we believe in (John 13:34-35)?

In a sea of anonymity so vast that we could easily disappear unnoticed, will we hold ourselves accountable to the Lord (or Whoever or whatever our heart kneels to), or does it take someone else’s comment to keep us on track? Who are we behind closed doors? Who are we when the only person present who knows us and will hold us accountable is God? Is He important enough to us that this would matter (Matthew 16:24-26; 22:37); or are we able to brush past Him, indifferent to His presence.

Where do your limits lie?

Left to your own devices, you begin to see not only your priorities come to light, but also your strengths and weaknesses. Similar to your true priorities appearing when no one else is around to define them for you, your true strengths and weaknesses will often make a front row appearance. With no one nearby to pull us up from the depths of our weakness, or to lean on without having to use our own strengths, who will we lean on? With no trustworthy friend or knowledgeable family in sight, who will we go to in times of need?
What if we weren’t really alone? What if the One family member closest to us, the One who knows us better than our entire family put together were within earshot of the quietest whisper? What if after all that “soul-searching travel”, the one with the answers to all those questions, the one with the capacity to fulfil all our needs (even those we never knew we had), were with us no matter where we are?

Perhaps we don’t need as much “soul-searching travel” as we think.

 

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The lesser touristic, more “real” side of Luang Prabang, Laos: miners on their daily commute across the Mekong.
2017 – © Marie-Louise Disant

The Ultimate Lesson

If travelling alone has taught me one thing, it’s that we are not built for a life alone. By this, I don’t mean that we must all find that mythological soul-mate to live life with and finally “feel complete”. I refer to something much greater, much holier than our mere relationship status.

Created by a triune God, in His image, by design we reflect some of His traits. “He is Love”, because He is relational. The very fact that He is and has always been three and yet one at the same time, teach us that relationship is at the very core of who He is; it’s part of His Identity, as it is part of ours.

This relationality, if you will, is part of our identity too. It will look different for everyone, and within different seasons of life: for some it will be most obvious within their community relationships, for others it will be through marriage, or family relationships, or friendships; but perhaps the answers we are looking for, aren’t necessarily where
we first think.

We’re all travellers: a view from a solo female traveller

[Guest post 2 in a series started here by Marie-Louise Disant]

We’re all travellers.

No matter your worldview, no matter your past or present, I think we can all agree on one truth concerning our respective, earthly futures: they’re finite. We’re all passers-by here, travellers present for a fleeting blip in time. After that, our beliefs may diverge; some will believe that we all get multiple blips in time until we reach nirvana, or that this blip is all we get, and some believe that this blip is only a taster of that which is yet to come. I personally hold to the latter.

The Bible overflows with accounts of travellers in all kinds of walks of life: travelling for civic duty (Genesis 41:45-57; Luke 2:1-5), for safety (Exodus 6ff), for obedience (Genesis 12:1ff, Acts 13:1-14:28), for pleasure, and Peter has already written about many of these. When you look at the various people travelling the world today, we’re not all that different from one another.

We’re rarely truly alone

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A well deserved rest after a night-hike to the top at 2am; From this angle, you might think I was all alone…
Pico do Papagaio – 2016 © Marie-Louise Disant

There seems to be quite a stigma put on doing things alone: dining out alone, living alone, travelling alone… Truth be told however, travelling solo rarely leaves us truly alone, and travelling alone is not synonymous with loneliness (an all too familiar companion for many, but more or less present in all seasons of life – not just travel, but also career, marriage, grief, motherhood and more).

Whether it’s sharing a dorm room with other travellers (some solo, some not), or meeting other travellers on a walking tour with a fascinating and encouraging guide (if you ever go to Munich, look for the Sandeman’s Free Walking Tours andask for Austin!), Couchsurfing, or a random conversation with the person sitting next to you … You are rarely alone physically-speaking; and should you subscribe to a Biblical worldview (amongst others), turns out you’re never alone in any sense of the word!

As a woman, this has repercussions in many areas relating to travel. This sense of being alone but not alone, can lead to a culture of solidarity amongst women, both travelling and not-so. Between “adoption”, in a sense, by locals, because they fearfor the solo travelling woman’s safety; “adoption” by other solo female travellers, for safety and companionship; and “adoption” by an omnipresent Father (Ephesians 1:5); I and many solo female travellers have felt safer and more cocooned in a sense, on travels in foreign cultures, than in our own homes sometimes. Safety is no longer reserved to the life of a home-bird.

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But it was quite the opposite I assure you; the view is quite different from another perspective, is it not?
Pico do Papagaio – 2016 © Marie-Louise Disant

Are we ready to let go of our own bias?

Maybe solo travel doesn’t have to be all that scary after all… Maybe, it might even
teach us a thing or two that we wouldn’t learn from travelling with others; about
God, about ourselves, and about others…

Maybe we don’t really have to listen to everything the world tells us after all…

 

Travelling for abortion: one story, one lady, two lives?

I’ve tried to write this several times closer to the conversations I had with these two ladies, but each time I clammed up and tears were welling in my eyes.  And if it’s been like that for me, I don’t know what it is like for these ladies.

With that in mind, I know how tempting it would be to agree with many of those I met on Saturday at the “March for Repeal” (to repeal the 8th amendment, which bans abortion in most circumstances in Ireland, outside of when the mother’s life is endangered) who asked me why I was vocalising my male views, on a female topic.  And if it were simply that, perhaps both “sides” of the protest could tell their male attendees to go home and shut up.

But I stayed.

It wasn’t easy to stay.  I’d had a long week of work, the sun was out for the first time this summer (in any meaningful way), and there were plenty of places I would rather have been that standing in a 200 strong crowd of angry, yelling protesters, who were chanting things from the depths of their being against what I considered precious to me.  Compared to those who had come down to protest for Repeal from Limerick as they thought this would be a “fun day out”, I was out of my mind.

Repeal rally

And it’s not because I’m “one of those” people either.  You know the ones who love to get their megaphone out and make their understanding of truth be known to everyone, at any opportunity?  I was helping a UCC society new committee this week do some teamwork training, and to help them understand their roles within a team.  And from the survey they all filled in (Belbin), I didn’t score highly on any of the assertive questions about making my views known in a divergent group.  Perhaps I’m blind to my own ways.

What was I doing there?  Displaying signs like these, and saying very little:

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The group I was with that day also endorse the use of graphic imagery to inform people, as they would believe that statistics don’t hit home “the nature of genocide”.  But before you voice your disgust, I wonder if you could give me a few seconds more and listen in to one of many conversations I had that day with “Eilidh”?

Firstly I should say that we were their legally, having forewarned the Gards about our being there, and using EU legislation to allow us to express what we wished.  We have a code with all those who work with us, that we’re there to stand silently and engage with those who wish to engage in meaningful ways and seek to love those around us, however we can.  “Eilidh” was one of those.

“Our bodies, our choice!
Our bodies, our choice!
Our bodies, our choice!  Our bodies, our choice!

Pro life, that’s a lie,
you don’t care if women die!
Pro life, that’s a lie,
you don’t care if women die!”

“Excuse me, I was just wondering if you know that women are protected under Irish law in all circumstances and can have a termination of pregnancy if their life is at risk?”

“That’s a lie.  What happened to Savita, or that lady flung in a mental home for wanting an abortion this last week?”

“Savita was medical malpractice (nothing to do with abortion) and the most recent case of the lady going into care was not because she wanted an abortion.  It was standard medical procedure, and she also happened to be pregnant at the time.”

E angrily, “Why are you even here?  Just to show hatred for women?”

“No, I’m just wanting to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, like these ones” (pointing to large picture of aborted fetuses)

“But they’re all fake images.  Fake news.  Aborted fetuses aren’t like that.”

“I’m afraid not, they’re very real images”

“But, but…but, they can’t be.  Are you sure?”

I nod, but barely a second passes as she gulps and interrupts.

“But I bet you don’t care for women who choose to keep a child.  What do you know about anything like that?  You just campaign for something and then leave women to suffer.”

“Well, no, actually.  I campaign for something and then try to live sacrificially towards it.  I run community spaces in the city to help a diverse range of people, and am involved with others who give financially, give accommodation, give of their time, and surround women who want to keep their children with a loving community of supportive people.  In fact, we even support those who’ve had abortions, to mentally process things.”

“Oh…..that’s beautiful.  Well, I wish that had been made known to me when I was 16 and was forced by my family to go for an abortion”, she said, breaking down in front of me.

Then she turned away, ashamed of her tears, back to the yelling crowd, full of fear.

I once again returned to silence, pondering just how many others like her were in the crowd.  Another I chatted to that day was angry, simply because she had come back from an abortion a few hours earlier, and needed somewhere to vent.

People’s experiences can change them.  Change us for the good, but also change us for the worse.  It can blind us all to logic.  And logic in the light of experience can seem so cold, so brutal.  Unless you have a warm community around you, taking away any shame and willing to unconditionally support you.  I’ve linked some places you can go if you want to experience that.

I hope the table below makes it clear that there aren’t any reasons to endorse abortion, unless you are also willing for infanticide in the same cases, as pro-choice ethicist Peter Singer so rightly has argued.

What makes a human

What about rape?  What about fatal foetal abnormalities?  What about the hard cases?

Well they are hard.  And they’ll never become anything but that.  They are also rare.  But so this doesn’t get any longer, perhaps I could point you to find answers here and here, and further support below:

  • Gianna Care – for any type of support
  • Rachel’s Vineyard – for support post-abortion
  • WomenHurt.ie – Irish women who have walked in your shoes before you
  • Your local Students for Life group in Cork (or near you) are at the main gates of the college once a week and are willing to chat.  Coffee is on us!
  • Local churches like this one and this one have provided finance, accommodation, community, support and much more for those Students for Life Cork have met who want to continue with their pregnancy.  Many others would do similar.

Trouble comes from the north

We’ve already seen that moving east (of Eden) was normally rebellion in Genesis terms but what about the north?  I often get slagged about being from the north, and I jokingly often apologise about it when I speak publicly at events in Cork.  But what about the Bible and the north?

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Heading north in Norway, to one of the most northerly points I’ve ever been.

Well in most books there doesn’t seem to be much to differentiate the north from anywhere else apart from in Jeremiah.  For whatever reason, Jeremiah is all set to twin any mention of the north with trouble.  Here’s a few references:

(chapter 1) 14 The Lord said to me, ‘From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. 15 I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,’ declares the Lord.

‘Their kings will come and set up their thrones
    in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem;
they will come against all her surrounding walls
    and against all the towns of Judah.

(Chapter 4) 6 Warn everyone to go to Zion!
    Run for safety! Do not wait!
I am bringing trouble from the north.
    Everything will be totally destroyed.”

(Chapter 10) 22 Listen! The report is coming –
    a great commotion from the land of the north!
It will make the towns of Judah desolate,
    a haunt of jackals.

(Chapter 46) 20 ‘Egypt is a beautiful heifer,
    but a gadfly is coming
    against her from the north.

(Chapter 50) 3 A nation from the north will attack her
    and lay waste her land.
No one will live in it;
    both people and animals will flee away.

Apart from Jeremiah, a very few other instances remain of trouble coming from the north, Daniel 11 being one of them.

But why the north?

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The north of Norway in June at well after midnight.

Well, what makes it even more unusual for those of you who know Israeli geography, is that although it’s not likely to ever have trouble from nations in the sea or desert (west and east respectively), that a few nations that are being described as from “the north” are not geographically located there at all.  Babylon is situated eastward of Israel, as is the Medo-Persian empire.  Here are a few more references you can explore:

(Isaiah 14:31; Jer 46:20, 24; 47:2; 50:3, 9, 41–43; 51:48; Ezek 26:7)

The only reason I’ve ever read is the following:

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“In Mediterranean latitudes the northern circumpolar stars never set but remain forever in the sky, unlike those stars that rise nightly only to set in the west. These far northern stars, picturesquely designated “the imperishable stars” in ancient Egyptian because they never set, became a picture of immortality and eternity in the ancient Near East.
It is therefore appropriate for the north to be the biblical locus for the eternal God’s sacred mountain, which goes by more than one name (Mt. Zaphon, “north;” Mt. Zion). It is a celestial locale, not to be confused with any earthly place, for God “stretches out the north over empty space” (Job 26:7 NASB). From here God administers the cosmos, summoning the starry hosts “to heaven … above the stars of God … on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north” (Is 14:13 NASB). The physical location of Jerusalem, where God’s terrestrial house was built by Solomon, was irrelevant to its metaphysical significance as a counterpart to the northern celestial abode: “His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Mt. Zion in the far north, the city of the great King” (Ps 48:1–2 NASB)”

 

Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J., Longman, T., Duriez, C., Penney, D., & Reid, D. G. (2000). In Dictionary of biblical imagery (electronic ed., p. 596). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

So the north doesn’t always produce trouble.  It’s the symbolic home of God – where he dwells, and where blessing and judgment will always flow.  Perhaps that’s why the Northern Irish always call the province “God’s wee country”, though I have my suspicions otherwise.

Finding God in my loneliness (Book review, Crossway, 2017)

I’ve previously noted that travelling can be a lonely world, but ever lonelier can be trying to settle down after you travel.  At least in travelling, loneliness came by choice.  But in marriage, in singleness, in settling down and other things, it doesn’t seem to be the case.  Lydia Brownback correctly says in her introduction:

“That’s why everyone — young or old, single or married — experiences loneliness.  No one is exempt”

But why is this?

One of the most powerful moments in the whole book is a quotation that helped me to really grasp that I often place my treasure in the wrong place.  In a world that screams “I’m your oyster – have me any time, any place or anyhow”, comes paralysis.  Paralysis in options.  Too many of them.

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Alone travelling down Ireland, but in the presence of my Maker

“The god of open options is a cruel and vindictive god. He will break your heart. He will not let anyone get too close. But at the same time, because he is so spiteful, he will not let anyone get too far away because that would mean they are no longer an option. On and on it continues, exhausting and frustrating and confusing and endless, pulling towards and then pushing away, like the tide on a beach, never finally committing one way or the other. We have been like the starving man sitting in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet, dying simply because he would not choose between the chicken and the shrimp.

The god of open options is also a liar. He promises you that by keeping your options open, you can have everything and everyone. But in the end, you get nothing and no one.”

And that “god of options” can be smoothly dressed in a beautiful, Christian (modest) dress, with sparkly shoes.  Options about how one invests one’s life.  Options of who (or whether) to marry.  Options of simply being so nuanced, we never say anything of any importance.  It’s a tug that the author feels so well as she sits with us in our loneliness in other chapters:

  1. Loneliness in Leaving
  2. Loneliness of Night
  3. Loneliness of Obedience
  4. Loneliness of Running Away
  5. Loneliness of Grief
  6. Loneliness of being different
  7. Loneliness of being unclean
  8. Loneliness of Misplaced Love
  9. Loneliness of marriage
  10. Loneliness of being unmarried

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What I enjoyed (if I can use that word) about Lydia’s experiences and writing was that it did not come from a place of privilege in some senses.  It is fine for me to write about loneliness while unmarried, but ultimately, I have a choice in who to pursue (in conservative Christian circles where the male pursues), and so my loneliness my not be as intense.  Equally it is fine for me to write about being “different” and yet so many things are stacked in my favour that do not make me different (me being Caucasian, male, heterosexual etc) that even in my difference, I am similar.  Equally in my “obedience” of wanting to embrace the “unengaged/unreached” world, even if it means foregoing some relationships (of all sorts).  That’s fine for me, but there are tens of women out there who are foregoing marriage by doing so, for every one male who does.

But ultimately no matter what level of privilege (and Lydia must have a fair bit, given her educational background and ability to write for a major western publisher), she beautifully points us to the fact that Christ is enough.  And beyond being enough, that knowing Jesus and being plugged in to his body, the church, will help us to make the most of our loneliness and thrive not despite of but because of our loneliness.  Because as she so adeptly says at the start, our loneliness is partly there to point us to the greater reality that we were made for something more.

Made to connect to something greater.

Made to delve into depths of far deeper relational connectedness than this world could ever give us.

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This, is a book for travellers.  I mean, it’s a book for anyone and everyone, but one especially that connects to the travelling heart and re-orientates our travels towards God.

My only complaint?  It was so short that I could easily put it to one side and not let some spiritual “heart surgery” be done.  Perhaps I should go back and meditate on the beauty of encountering a Christ who walked our lonely road perfectly before us, and now walks our lonely road with us at all times.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” 

(Isaiah 53:3)

And people wonder why a Triune God appeals to me…