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

Travelling to find yourself

8am and I’m currently sitting in the Glendalough International Hostel in the Wicklow “Mountains” in Ireland.  Staying here as a cheap night away from travelling round Ireland with work but also because I’ve heard some of the trail runs at the top of the hills round the lakes are stunning.  Little did I know that I’d be out running at 5am, and arrive back in at 7am to find my room-mates still sleeping.  They probably thought such a tranquil hostel didn’t have these late night party-ers and early morning flight-get-ers that so often ruin the hostel night’s sleep.

But getting up for 5am runs doesn’t really feel like who I am.  There are “runners” who do that every day or regularly, like the person I went out running with.  But I’m definitely not one of them.

But equally who am I?  It’s a misty, murky question.

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Walking Glendalough lakes, with a friend wrestling about His identity (C)  03/07/17

I’ve many friends and I meet people all the time on their travels who are trying to find this out.  Generally you can tell either from what they post on facebook, or from where they invest their time, money and life.  Particularly among the travelling community, such questions are huge, because traditional ties to family or nationality/region are so often rejected (though in some cases nationality becomes a big outward identity, even if the person is in crisis and no longer feels like that inwardly when they’re back home).  The traveller, to some extent, will have to journey alone in finding their identity, as so often their experiences will be unique.

And perhaps that has to be key: we are unique.  Perhaps not as unique as we’d like to think in our shared humanity, but unique none-the-less.  We have to be more than the sum of our parts, and we desperately hope that is true.  As humans we are sexual beings, but we’re more than our sexuality, important as it is.  As humans we’re connected beings, but we’re more than our connections and relationships.  And as humans we’re creative beings in our jobs, hobbies and elsewhere, but we’re more than just “a painter” or “a hurling player”.

And the trouble with all of these things, that if we let them define us, we’ll be ruined.  We’ll sell ourselves short of who we really are or even worse, end up mentally unstable.  And yet it’s what we constantly do in a bid to make ourselves seem something.  So what’s the solution?

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Walking Glendalough lakes, with a friend wrestling about His identity (C)  03/07/17

Well, perhaps just to invest our identity in so many things that even if they go wrong, we’ll have a well balanced life still.  Risky, but it normally pays off, unless you get some catastrophe in life.  That’s largely the secular response (with variations on a theme).

Or what if we could have an identity that lay outside of ourselves?  Many would immediately think that it’s demeaning – a denial of our uniqueness and everything that we are.  And what would it even look like?  Most worldviews that promise such, end up being nonsense claims, as that religion or worldview just becomes a part of an inner struggle to achieve in life.  If you do badly at the worldview or religion, you’re back down doubting your identity as that, or struggling mentally.  It’s just one more part of life.  But someone once showed me one identity different to that.

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It was an identity outside of myself that freed me to truly start to get to know myself over time.  An identity that had nothing to do with my performance in life or whether something was removed from me.

And if you’ll hold off your initial scepticism long enough to read on a paragraph or two, I’d claim that identity was Jesus and being found in Him.  Not in my performance following him, or my religiosity.  But in Him, Himself.  And I’ve found that because He claims to have made everything (including me, by whatever long, earthy processes that involved), and He therefore knows me better than I know myself, that I can find myself more and more, as I delve deeper into knowing and experiencing my identity in Him.

  • I can face serious hockey injuries, without fearing my identity will be taken from me.
  • I can sit beside Republican and Loyalist alike, in my home city, and chat to them both and concede some things to both politically, because my identity is not in my politics (even if I am still passionate about it).
  • I can face being given the diagnosis of a long term medical condition a few years ago, that will shape my life, largely because my identity is not in my health or working capabilities.
  • I can face and even enjoy singleness (without porn, sex or even masturbation), because much as I am a sexual being, I am not defined by it.  I am freed to enjoy sex as my creator intended it.
  • I can face the times that I severely doubt the evidence for Jesus, because ultimately, the truth (or lack of) it doesn’t rely on my reasoning alone but on things outside of myself (which I would say give us good grounds for belief).

Because my identity in Him, is a “loved child of God”; a gift from the Father to the Son; one who is sitting reigning with Christ in the heavenly realms; one who is destined for a better world to come.

And it’s freeing!

I’m free to stop travelling the world (metaphorically and physically) to find myself (and now just to do it to enjoy Him and His world).  I’m free to try to love others better who are radically different to me, because if my identity is secure in Christ, I need not fear anything else and can focus all my time and energy on looking outwards to others, even if they’re hard to love.  And in fact, I’d argue it’s the only legitimate philosophical reason that we “ought” to care about others – because we were made for it – our identity as children of God will lead us to love God, and love others at its heart.

Give me a bunch of people who believe this radical truth deeply from the core of their being, and you’ll have an army of servant-hearted foot-washers, freed to change the world for the better. Sadly, my own heart so quickly forgets it and needs reminded of it again.

So fellow traveller, don’t let “Christian” or “Jesus” just become another word on your list of identities.  Lose yourself in Him!   And truly find yourself again in light of it.

[For more resources on this topic, read John’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, the ancient letter to the Colossian church from the Apostle Paul, or anything on here: www.bethinking.org (search: identity)]

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Easy to lose the woods for the trees in the identity question!  Glendalough, 03/07/17

The world is on your doorstep – will you let it in?

You don’t need to travel to be a global minded person.  Here’s a few ways Global Connections suggest we as Christians can be global-minded and share God’s heart for the nations:

  • read things written by Christians in other parts of the world, cultures (not just western ones), classes (not just middle class ones) and backgrounds
  • invite such speakers to speak at our conferences

For the original:

http://www.globalconnections.org.uk/churches/global-mission/learning-from-the-global-church

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The world is on our doorstep…will you let it in?

What you miss out on, Christian traveller: joy!

In a previous post I’d argued that the Christian who spends much time away from their home travelling, is one who doesn’t so much gain, as miss out on all God has for us, and the ways in which God chooses to work in the world.  But as well as this, I think the Christian traveller misses out on something else.

I wonder what you felt when you first came to faith and understood what you had in Jesus?  Oh how sweet moments like that were – when you grasped that you were no longer condemned.  When you grasped that sin had no hold on you.  When you grasped that you had everything in Christ Jesus and needed nothing more.  When you dreamed of what lay ahead in the heavenly realms with His people from all nations.  A joy was yours that would equip you, despite the suffering that lay ahead.

Next to it, I wonder whether you’ve had the joys of leading someone else to a genuine faith and seeing them grow over the years?  You get to re-live the great joys that you experienced all over again, as you see all these things dawn on them.  As you see them drink in the Word and respond to Jesus’ words as if hearing them for the first time.  Beautiful!

And even for those who came to faith like I did, at such a young age that there wasn’t “a moment” like this, I’m sure you can still relate to it, as I can.

The ecstasy of knowing people join the Heavenly family, and the party that follows (Luke 15, on a sidenote, started by God, not just his angels) is one worth going after, not just for God’s glory but at the same time for our enjoyment in that too.

And so if you spend most of your free holiday time travelling, not only do you miss out on Christian family, community and your own transformation through God’s chosen means for that, but you also miss out on those long-term relational links you have to non-Christian communities.

Sure, I’ve seen folk come to faith as I’ve been pleasure travelling. But it’s a rare thing rather than the norm, and it’s always been harder to see them plug into a church, given that the Christianity modelled to them is an itinerant, individualistic one.  More often than not, I’ve seen most students forsake the regular meeting up with people who are different to them at home, and make pleasure travelling the “bushel” that covers their “lamp” (Luke 11:33).

We think we’re getting the best the world has to offer and even put it in religious “seeing more of God’s creation” language.  Instead we’re walking away from Jesus’ purposes for us in the world and from His glory.  Perhaps this hymn might help us reflect if it may be true:

1 O for a closer walk with God,
a calm and heavenly frame,
a light to shine upon the road
that leads me to the Lamb!

2 Where is the blessedness I knew
when first I sought the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
of Jesus and his Word?

3 What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
the world can never fill.

4 The dearest idol I have known,
whate’er that idol be,
help me to tear it from thy throne
and worship only thee.

5 So shall my walk be close with God,
calm and serene my frame;
so purer light shall mark the road
that leads me to the Lamb.

(William Cowper)

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Neither poverty, nor riches…

My last student summer ever before starting work at the end of August and I’d 6 weeks to fill.  A few of them were for volunteer teams, I’d to make a call with my family at some point for a bit, but the rest was free.  What to do?

As usual, browsing facebook would turn out to give the answer (!).  The Warden of Tyndale House (the evangelical theological faculty at Cambridge University) posted up on his status about needing someone to drive a few guests round England for a week.  Knowing the type of people who visit Tyndale, I thought this could well be someone very interesting in the Christian/theological world, so dropped him a line.  And that week was to change my thinking a lot.

It turned out that this was an older couple from the US, who were big names in the evangelical Christian scene, but who also lived next to an ex-president of America, and were used to living with such people in their every day lives.  They were old enough that they didn’t fancy driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and so had asked me to drive them round, join them on their holiday and look after a disabled relative that they’d with them.  Having not driven in 2 years since I passed my test (apart from a big white van that I managed to scrape the side of, and also nearly topple on the motorway), I probably should have informed them that driving the poshest car that I’d ever been in, was not the most sensible on this occasion.

But not only was it the poshest car I had ever driven, we stayed in the classiest 5* hotels that I’d ever been to.  Michelin star restaurants where meals were crafted to order, based on the customers desires.  Rooms with gardens and pools that you’d happily stay in all day.  Bathrooms with heated floors, LED twinkling lights in the ceiling, jacuzzi tubs and a drinks bar.  And concierges employed as much to just keep guests happy and chatting away.  One click of the finger, and anything was mine, at no cost to me.

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I’m quite glad that I actually have little desire for 5* hotels…the real things I chase after are scenes like this one in North Africa, where I was visiting friends the other week!

But I had a dilemma.

I’d just come off a year of volunteering with the Christian Union (university) movement in the UK, which was self-supported.  Frugality was a way of life, and I’d got into the mindset that it was Godliness.  This holiday however for me, was the most spiritually sapping thing I’d ever had.  Everything at my finger tips, and no need of anything or anyone else.  To me, this was anti-gospel (the gospel being the thing declaring we are very needy people, in need of God, and of others).  Yet here were some of the richest people in the world, claiming to be mature Christians and heralded by many, throwing cash at anything that moved.  I was baffled and struggled all week, while trying to enjoy this.

But the more I reflected on my trip, back on a summer volunteer team (sharing a shower between seven, basic meals and a budget of around 70 euros a week to cover accommodation, food, resources and freetime), the more I saw that yes, perhaps you could live a Godly life whilst being rich.  And maybe even further than that, we need Christians who are living out this existence, mingling with US Presidents and influential circles of every type.  Now don’t get me wrong, you could be doing all of these things from bad, ungodly motive, but I don’t think these folk were.

Their generosity to me and to Tyndale House was huge.  They’d shaped their holiday round visiting something that they’d support financially that would massively shape British Christianity.  They’d had me there to help their disabled relative, which was also a large part of why they’d had to travel 5*.  Apart from the misunderstood clash between American consumer culture and reserved British five star culture, their behaviour and lives were incredible examples of dependence on God and Godly character.  And just because I’d found it hard spiritually, didn’t mean they weren’t vibrantly living out a sacrificial life.

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Sunset over Paris, the other week (see pic below for explanation)

Here’s just a few reflections that travelling with them helped me to see:

  • Godliness need not have any correlation to wealth (Proverbs 4:23 – it’s what comes from the heart that matters, not necessarily the outward appearance).  I can rejoice in my Father’s goodness to other believers in giving them wealth, and weep with my fellow believer who is struggling to make ends meet.
  • That in Christ, is all richness found.  He is better than gold (Proverbs 8:18-19).
  • That in all God gives me, I should honour him with it (Proverbs 3:9).  Given I (and probably you reading this too) are in the top few percent of richest people in the world, given our ability to travel (even on a budget), we must not think ourselves as the poor.
  • It is very hard not to forsake being needy when you have everything, and very easy to get bitter when you have nothing.  Therefore, I will make Proverbs 30:8 my prayer: “give me neither poverty nor riches, but only give me my daily bread”

Before I book any travel, my prayer is that I stop for one evening to sleep on it, pray for guidance, and remember these things, amongst others.

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Paris, the next destination for my US friends, who offered me the trip free of charge again – so tempting!  But I felt not appropriate this time.  Thankful to another friend who gave me a free hotel this year in Paris, with him.

10 top tips for souk bartering in North Africa

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So many people get exasperated by a day in the souks, haggling in a different culture, and trying to negotiate a shame/honour culture, whilst having no experience in it.  Here’s a few top tips I’ve gleaned from locals over the years:

  1. Relax.  You’re there for the cultural experience and the fun of a holiday in another culture.  Only take what money with you that you’d be happy spending, and then you’ll not be too disappointed at over-spending!
  2. It’s not a competition (well, for most of us).  I’m super-competitive about everything in life.  I like to think I never settle for second-best.  But if you do that here, you’ll always live in the past with regrets and mentally will never be free to enjoy the day.  Let go of the thought of trying to get the world’s best ever deal.  If you’ve got a price that you think is worth it, accept it and enjoy it.
  3. The more you look like a tourist, the more you’ll be charged tourist prices.  The more you sound like a tourist, the same.
  4. Try to avoid the main branches of the souk off the main square/walkway.  They see hundreds of tourists a day, know every trick in the book and often charge more than those who see fewer tourists on the back streets and winding alleyways.
  5. If you see something you like, try bartering for it at a few stalls (not within eyesight of each other) to see what the best price is you can get, and then start with that price to drive a hard bargain at a final stall.IMG_0171
  6. A shame/honour culture dictates how things play out in the souks.  If the seller can tell you a long sob story and persuade you of its reality, he maintains honour and gets a good price (even if the story is not true).  If he tells you that you can look and not buy, he will maintain his honour but of course will draw you in for the sale with treating you admirably while you are in the stall (honouring you).
  7. You most likely are from a guilt culture and are thinking whether the things the seller says are true or not.   His sob stories convict you of guilt (it would be cruel not to buy).  His chat, winsomeness and maybe even offer of mint tea mean that your heart is feeling guilty by walking out on him without a purchase.  You take every word at face value.
  8. Depending on how much you believe you can or should play along with the shame honour culture, have some of your own stories up your sleeve for why you aren’t able to pay such high prices!  If you want to stick to a stricter guilt model of ethics, think of ones that are entirely truthful and feel guilt-free!  (see example below)  If you haven’t got a good price to start with, you’re unlikely to be able to wrestle it back mid-interchange, but it can be fun to try!
  9. If you’re outside of a tourist area, you’re more likely to be offered very reasonable prices, and driving them as low as you can may even not be the most friendly thing to do – remember you’re the rich western person (probably in the world’s top 1% richest) on holiday in a place where many aren’t so fortunate.
  10. If you really get infuriated by not knowing prices, most tourist markets have many stalls with fixed prices – just look out for things with price labels…you normally can’t barter in these.

And here’s one example for you!

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Seller (S): “Hello my friend!”

(I ignore English in the souks to get better prices and more real exchanges)

(S) “Bonjour Monsieur!”

(I respond by looking uninterested but willing to browse.  All interactions are then in French or Arabic, but here written in English)

(S):  “Look, no buy for you today.  Just come here”

Me: “Oh but your things are so beautiful.  I must of course look.”

“Yes, they are very authentic products made here in [insert place] by my family for decades.  If you tell me what you want, I will get one’s which are better than the tourist ones I have for sale here”

“Ah wow, your family must feel honoured that you continue to sell these things.  They are beautiful.”

(I browse for a few minutes, finally spotting what I fancy)

“I love the pattern of this.  So intricate and it blends so well!”

“Yes, that is one of our best things.  If you would like it, I can offer you a special Ramadan price”

“You are very kind.  The last time I bought one of these I got it for a very good price too, so that would be wonderful.” (getting the upperhand by making him nervous I know the pricing structure, which, so often is true, because I’ve been round all the stalls)

“Well for a great American friend like you, I will only charge 300 Dirhams”

“Oh, I’m not a rich American.  In my country, we do not have as much money and it is not as important to us.”

“Ah, so you must be English.  I will do a better price for you English because I like that.  People first, money after.  Perhaps 200 Dirhams for you then?”

“Oh 200 Dirhams is a lot for me, because I am not English.  I am a poor Irishman.  The English have oppressed us for 700 years and colonised us.  You must know what that feels like, no?”

(He smiles) “Ah, I see.  Good Irish price then.  What would it be for you?”

“Oh probably 60 Dirhams”

“60 Dirhams?!  I could not even do that for an Irishman, or else my family would not live”

“Well, how about 80 Dirhams then?”

“90 Dirhams and you will have had the best deal in all of [insert place name]”

“Well, I’ll tell you what, if I buy two of these, I’ll pay you 160 Dirhams and we’ll both have a great deal!”

“You barter like a Berber, my friend!  But I cannot take lower than 90 each”

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Such bartering style even must be deployed in the simplest of exchanges on the beach or anywhere!

(I look sad and start to go towards the door and signal my apology)

“Then I must thank you but leave, because I only have 150 Dirhams left to buy anything today, apart from some bread for lunch.  Look, that is all I have”

“My friend, do not tell anyone, but I will take it.”

“Thank you.  You are a generous man, and you should be proud of your family heritage.  These are the best in [insert place name].

*buys product*

Marrakech, souks and disgruntled tourists

“I’m never going back there again”

“I wouldn’t go there for more than 2 days”

“They were so aggressive”

“I felt so overwhelmed all the time and unable to escape”

Comments you wouldn’t expect to find on a holiday brochure for Marrakech, Morocco, but nonetheless ones that were the expressed sentiment as soon as Easyjet had shut the aeroplane door to Manchester and the tourist may as well have been back on his home turf again.

And yet they weren’t angry comments.  More just baffled.  Because the next sentence would always be one that would reaffirm that they did really enjoy their trip.  But did they?  Was this sadistic enjoyment?

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Why don’t I set the scene?  It’s 45 degrees celsius and you’ve headed out for the day in Marrakech.  Dressed in as little as possible for a conservative country like Morocco, you have a phone in one pocket for photos and your wallet in the other.  Apart from a few sights, mostly the main “attraction” for most people is spending the day walking quaint souk (market) stalls in tiny alleyways.

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The maze of tiny stalls, each repeating very similar wares, yet every one unique and with its own quirky personality that probably reflects the owner as he stands there.  A true joy to browse.

 

 

 

 

 

“monsieur, Monsieur!  Vien-ici!”  “Look, no buy.”

At which you are greatly pleased.  Aha!  I can look at all these things and not be forced to buy.  Perfect.  And so you walk in.

A few minutes of polite chit chat with the stallholder later, you start to browse.  Taking interest in a couple of things in particular, you discuss something and take a photo.  And the stall owner moves for the kill, with you their unsuspecting prey.

“You like?”

“erm…yes, it’s beautiful” (not meaning to offend)

“Well, I give you good price”

“How much is it?”

“A good price.  What would be a good price for you?”

“oh well, I don’t know.”

“well, I’ll offer you a special Ramadan price of 120 dirhams.  Normally I would sell it for 340 dirhams, but my brother especially made this one, and so I am able to get it for you far cheaper for you alone today.”

Wow, you think.  Such a good offer just for me.  And his brother made it….so it’s really authentic.  But 11.50 euros…just for that?  Oh but it’s genuine, and when else could you buy something like this?  And so the internal debate ravages on.

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“Oh I think I’ll think about it and come back to you later”

Sensing his prey moving onwards, the stall owner puts himself between you and the door and tries again.

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“Oh my friend, this is a one time offer.  My brother only made one.   Look at how bad the quality of the normal “tourist” ones are!  This is a special one for you.  You are English.  Cheaper prices than Asda for you.”

At which you’d love to still walk out of the shop, but you start to wonder whether he is in fact, very correct.  It does indeed appear better than the others.  And it would be fun to have.

And so as you pull out your wallet, you hesitantly try another ten dirhams off the price.  At which you feel stupid, as this poor man quickly says he couldn’t afford to sell them for that price, and reverts back to the original.  And the deal is done.  The robbery has happened.

And the only consolation….you probably could afford to be robbed for the joy of such an exchange.  A sadistic joy.  Paying perhaps more to experience culture than for the item you now walk out to try and squeeze into your hand luggage, that will soon sit in some cupboard, not in use back home.

And unless you understand the culture, this repetition all day will break you.

Anger.

Frustration.

How could they?!

As you walk into another stall determined for the same thing not to happen again.

“Bonjour monsieur!  Look, no buy!”

“NO!  JUST TELL ME HOW MUCH IT IS!”

“What would be good price for you Monsieur?”

The man looks so honest.  And somehow I spurt out a figure.  And in a split second of madness I wonder whether I’m dealing with a reincarnated man from the last stall.

And my Dirhams which once were a good exchange rate against the Euro, have just somehow vanished in Euro-like quantities.

Sacrifice vs enjoying the world

It’s the tension soo many Christians feel when coming to think about travel.  We want to travel and enjoy the world but we feel guilty that there are more selfless things to spend our time and resources on.  Lindsay Brown (IFES Europe) quoted someone (but many have said it) this last week saying:

“How to get round the tension between sacrifice and enjoying God’s good gifts?

Hold them in the palm of an open hand”

Enjoying all the good gifts that have come to us from our Heavenly Father should be done without clenching at them as if they are ours, but with open hands, ready to enjoy and use them for Him.

The image made an impression on me, given it’s a question in every seminar I’ve led!

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A prayer for the traveller

Fountain of all goodness,

As we gaze at our Instagram feeds, we come and marvel at your Fatherly provision,

As we wake to another day of exploration, we delight in the sustaining hand of your Son,

As we consider your creation, we revel even more in the overflowing being of your Spirit within us.

We forsake any feeling that our travels are ours by right, because of any of our goodness, common-sense, self-discipline or ability.

And we pray that all our travels today would be done in the light of being united to your Son, by His sacrificial life, death, resurrection and ascension.

May our thoughts rise to you, our words point towards you and our actions be shaped by you, as we journey towards our goal in Christ Jesus together as your travelling people from all nations, en route to our true home in an infinite new heavens and new earth.

In His Name,

Amen

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Barmouth, Wales (copyright mine)

The History of Leisure Tourism

To think it was a Christian pastor who formed one of the world’s largest tour companies should give comfort to the fact that the Christian worldview provides great motivation to explore and enjoy the world.

But in all honesty, having read a bit more about Mr Thomas Cook, I’m not sure it was that reasoning, any more than conservative politics and a self-help message.  But I’m in early days of looking at it all!  Any leads welcome…

For those who’ve never read his story, their own website give a succinct account:

https://www.thomascook.com/thomas-cook-history/