A theology of travel teaser…

A number of you responded to my post here about help needed.  And others I stumbled upon, like this from EdenGate Travel Ireland.  Nice to know others have been mulling over the topic!

Advertisements

Resources for the traveller: help needed!

20180110_205703

Thankfully I was able to combine travel writing with a few strategic mission planning retreats with my work (IFES).  Here, we prayed for the world from near Nice, France

Please ‘scuse the short break from posting.  I’ve been off on my travels and travel writing and just wanted to be focussed on that for a while.

In addition to this great work that Stephen Liggins wrote, I’m writing an (hopefully) accessible theology of travel (called something far sexier) for IVP UK with lots of juicy stories and practical questions, applications and thoughts from many wiser than me.  I guess busses always come at the same time, eh?

Have any thoughts on faith and travel?  Do get in touch using the contact page or by commenting below.

But equally what I’d love your thoughts on, is a resource that myself and a few others from The River Communities are dreaming up for the seeking traveller (or any traveller for that matter).  Something that they can use on their travels to help them experience God and to break into their way of seeing the world.  Travellers are often seekers of something, and many of them are open to new thoughts and experiences.  Away from home, people will try anything once, if they meet a friendly face.

If you’re interested in this project, it’s in VERY early stages, and we’d love you to be involved or to chip in.  Again, please do drop me a line – I won’t bite!

And finally, if you’re not so sure about the whole book/resource thing, but want to keep online connections going, why not write a guest blog post for me or a series like Marie-Louise did?

Thanks to you all for reading!

Love and prayers,

PG

20180103_155129

Just one pub that I got to spend a few hours writing in, while I wandered the streets of London for a week over New Year.  I normally care little for my surroundings, but I’m trying to teach myself that God’s glory can be displayed in inner city things, as much as in the wilds of nature.  C’est vrai?

10 for travellers to read in 2018

I’m a big reader.  Partly because I do think readers are leaders.  You could spend worse time and money then learning from the best of thinkers and practitioners round the world.  And so here’s 10 (mostly recent publications) that I got for Christmas, that I think you might like!

Journey: an illustrated history of travel

book1

This coffee table book is a dream for the traveller!  Tracing the history of travel from several millennia ago, its pictures and bitesize format will lead to hours of fun facts and stories you may or may not know about travel.

For the more serious historian or reader, there’s enough to whet your appetite, and enough to send you off down a hundred other rabbit trails of things you want to investigate further.  At £25, it’s not cheap, but I intend it’ll get every pence of value sitting in my living room for others.

Is Shame Necessary? (Jennifer Jacquet)

book2

I’ve written before about how much of the world we see through our own cultural lenses.  Understanding shame/honour culture I think is key to understanding so much of history, world politics, religion and much more of personal interactions in our lives.  While those from such cultures will find this little book humorous and highly entertaining to see a westerner approach such a common sense topic (to you), it is however needed for us over here who have never thought the world could be seen that way!

The Strange Death of Europe (Douglas Murray)

book3

I was quite nervous of this treaty on immigration, identity and Islam, but it was recommended to me by those across a spectrum that I respected, and so I have started reading a book that appears to be a Conservative treatment on a topic I tend to take a more liberal stance on.  Whether Islam or secularism will dominate Europe in the decades to come will be a question that will not leave us for a while, and this, regardless of your opinion, is a well researched book.  Travelling Europe without thinking these questions could be blind travelling.  I can feel my pulse racing…

The Qur’an (Nicolai Sinai, Edinburgh Uni. Press)book4

A tsunami is coming!  After several hundred years of rigorous historical criticism of the Bible, this work has drawn together where we are with historical criticism of the Qur’an (just starting).  It’s a brave work to some extents, given what happens to those who suggest the Qur’an might not be the revealed message of Allah, but on other levels it will only be the start of fierce, western dragging of the text through critique in the decades to come.  I’m not sure how much westerners doing this, or how much us pretending Islam is a text-based religion will take affect, the way Biblical criticism did, but it’s a key read if you’re interested in the same discussion as the book above, or are travelling any Islamic state.

book5Zero Waste Home (Bea Johnson, Penguin)

Given the environmental impact on the world that travelling often makes, I would hope that most of us who travel, would be conscious of this, and looking to cut down our negative impact on the world, and on future generations (should there be future generations).  Bea Johnson is one of the leading voices over the years on cutting out waste from our lives, while still living normal lives.  I could imagine travellers will relate to her life of simplicity and absence of “stuff”.  The consequences are large enough, if put into action, that I’d suggest reading this one with a friend (to chat it through) or taking it slowly.  (And yes, I’m aware it’s ironic I’m buying a book on reducing waste…but I do want others to borrow it from my library, and that’s easier than Kindle!)

book6Cork Folk Tales (Kate Corkery)

Because every country/region has a rich story to tell, and folk tales are often what grab the imagination and help us see the mundane with a splash of colour.

Determined to Believe? (Prof John Lennox)

I’m a big Lennox fan.  I helped to organise his tour of Ireland recently, have sold hundreds of his books over the years.  Having said that, this looks like a polemic against a straw man Calvinism, veering many miles away from where Lennox is best: science (and faith).  I read it reluctantly while praying and longing for the day that the protestant/evangelical church will see that reformed/arminian distinctions don’t need to bitterly divide us.

“[insert Calvinism or Arminianism] will be the death of the church in [insert country/place]”.  No, no it won’t.  And if you think it will, your God is quite small.

JI Packer wrote a marvelous uniting book, speaking into a Christian Union situation in the UK that was divided on the topic.  I hope I’ve not judged this book by its cover.  Why for travellers?  Free will, determinism, compatibilism (and other variants) shape every culture, country, and thing that we do.  To understand culture well, you’d be wise to look at such questions, philosophical as they may be.

The Silk Roads (Peter Frankopan)book8

It was a bestseller of last year in many charts and one that is key reading to those who had western-centred history lessons.  “The region of the Silk Roads is obscure to many in the English-speaking world. Yet the region linking East with West is where civilization itself began, where the world’s great religions were born and took root, where goods were exchanged, and where languages, ideas and disease spread.”  Fascinating!  Things that will shape your travels in many places.

The Westminster Assembly (Robert Letham)

book9

Perhaps the most abstract and oldest on the list, I’m reading this to get my head around why the Church wrote some confessions of faith, what context they wrote them into and whether they are relevant for today.  Not inspiring to you?  Well stop just for one second.  We all have s system of beliefs, much as we like to say “I just believe the Bible and follow Jesus”.  The question is whether your system of beliefs matches what the weight of scripture teaches, freeing you to live in the best way in life: Jesus’ way?  I’ve found these truths to be invigorating in general life but also life-giving as I travel the globe, but am still wrestling with whether my reading of them was what the original authors had in mind!  If you’re not reformed in theology, I might suggest that you read up on it anyway, so that when you critique it, you’re reacting to the best of it, and not the worst.  A good rule anything you critique in 2018, in fact.

Birdsbook10

Because Jesus has given me a love for all things, and my mother has given me a love for what she loves: birds.  And this book to identify ones will be fun when I’m walking the banks of the Lee in Cork, or travelling to far flung places with tropical birds.

But don’t be put off by long lists:

  1. Your passions will be different to mine – don’t feel constrained by what I like!
  2. One chapter a day will get you readings a huge number of books this year.  Build it into your routine, or grab others to discuss what you read.
  3. I’ve deliberately not mentioned all the regular books I read to warm my heart with the good news of Jesus.  I always try and prioritise Bible reading and these, over anything else I read.  Academic views will change, but the Word of God will never change.  However, these titles may help us better understand the Word of God.

Travelling in light of eternity

Marie-Louise Disant writes her final post in her series on a female perspective of faith and travel.  You can find the rest here.


“But why are you so bothered about it, if you believe in eternity?”, asked my “Workaway mum”.

She was right too. I was sweating the small stuff. In light of all that is yet to come, and who I will be, it was not all that important; and yet, it was taking up more space in my mind than it should have.

Belief dictates action

Knowing that I was created for an eternity with my Creator changes things. It changes what I do, how I do it, where I do it etc.

As a daughter of Christ, I’m sent to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). He sends me in the name of the most powerful ‘trio’ ever to exist (verse 19). Though travel isn’t necessarily a fulfilment of this mission – increasingly, the nations are coming to us – this is a big part of why I travel. But my Jesus doesn’t just give me a mission to fulfil, He walks it out with me, standing right by my side every step of the way (v20).

As I walk out this plan that He has for my life, sent in His name and accompanied by Him, I also need some basic guidance to help me do so. If I decide to accept His good gifts and live my life for Him, instead of just for myself, His Word is the best place to figure out how.

Sometimes, we are the Pharisees.

In the days of Jesus earthly ministry, there was a strict Jewish religious sect called the Pharisees. They were completely obsessed with living ‘perfect’ lives according to the Law of Moses. They became so focused on obeying these laws that their hearts grew cold for God. They longed for public recognition of their piety instead of God’s grace and mercy.

MLblog10

Fota Botanical Gardens, Ireland 2016 © Marie-Louise Disant

One day, one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus what the greatest commandment of all was. His goal in asking this question was to determine who had ‘right’ interpretation of the Law – the Pharisees, or the Sadducees whom they despised. Jesus told them that first, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and second “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.

Sometimes, in the pursuit of an outwardly-looking ‘perfect’ life, we forget about what really matters. Sometimes, we are Pharisees. We become so focused on living a life that looks organised, beautiful, productive, moral and ‘successful’, that we forget why we live at all.

You may ask, “but Marie-Louise, why bother living a life like that? I have faith in Jesus as my saviour, then that’s enough (Ephesians 2:8), right?” My dear friend, you and I are not saved by some stroke of good fortune, or by our own intelligence, but by God’s gracious gift of his Son (Ephesians 2:9) in order that we would then go on to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). True faith in Jesus results in good fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) out of love for the One who loves us first and best. Why? So that all people will know that we are His disciples, by the love we have for one another (John 13:35).

Even though the expression of my love for Jesus is often quite faulty and marred by sin, I still want those around me to know about him. What’s the best way for those around me to know about him? By loving them. Unfortunately, that’s not what my life proclaims to those who know me best. Those who are closest to me, see my faults, my brokenness, and choose to love me anyway. What a beautiful proclamation, and a wonderful example of Christ’s love for us!

Love is…

“But Marie-Louise! Love is just an emotion, you love pizza, family and life with the same word!” Perhaps! … but only if we believe what our society tells us about love.

The bible, in yet another countercultural plot twist, tells us something a little different:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” – 1Corinthians 13:4-8

Love, in new testament scripture, is usually translated from the Greek word “agapé”. This term refers to benevolent actions toward another person, rather than just to feelings for another person, as is evidenced in the passage above. We can love like this, only because He showed us his love first. Christ’s sacrificial example of servant leadership and love, is the best example of all-encompassing love that I can think of and the only one I would strive to replicate in my own life. Every other example that comes to mind, falls short. Though I will never be perfect in this life, I would much rather follow a perfect role model, than an imperfect one.

MLblog11

Umbria, Italy 2016 © Marie-Louise Disant

Scandalous grace + unending love

“But Marie-Louise!” (What? More protest? Gosh – you are one hard reader to please!) “That’s a ridiculously tall order! I can’t be perfect, and neither can you, you just said so! I certainly can’t love perfectly either!”

My dear, dear friend: our weakness is the point.

No matter our struggle, whether it is to love or to let go, to work or to relax, to overcome addiction or to find structure; our inability to do so is the point. We are not called to live this life alone, struggling to measure up to some immeasurable self-imposed standard. We are created to glorify our Creator and enjoy a relationship with Him! Like every relationship, it’s not always going to be a perfect, happy one. But unlike every other relationship we have or will ever have, this relationship is with the One who embodies perfection itself.

He embodies Love, and patience, and kindness. His love does not envy, or boast; His love is not arrogant or rude. His love does not insist on its own way; His love is not irritable or resentful; His love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. His love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. His love never ends.

We are offered scandalous amounts of grace, in order to enjoy a relationship with our perfect Creator. Our Jesus doesn’t give us all these commandments to follow and then leave us alone in that struggle. He does it all Himself first, showing us how. Then, hands held out towards us, he offers to walk it out with us, if only we’ll accept His gift.

Our God doesn’t give us all these commandments without a) fulfilling them Himself first and b) walking them out with us, every step of the way.

Travel in light of His calling, His gift, and our acceptance

In travel, just like in life, how I behave reflects what I believe: about myself, about others, and more importantly, about my God.

He has called me to love Him first, and then my neighbour. He has offered relationship and love, and showed me how to do both.

He has shown me that without the hope I have in Him, I am lost.

I no longer need to travel to find out who I am or who He is. Now, I can just travel out of love; love for those I travel with and to and love for the One whose message I carry.

No matter where or when I will chose to travel to next, I know that I am not alone.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

But where there is my God, there is infinite possibility.

“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”

― James Hudson Taylor

Travelling Beyond Tourism

Marie-Louise Disant writes her penultimate post in her series on female travel.  You can find the rest here.  Thanks for reading!


“Will you remember me?”

Those four words hit me like a freight train.

No language barrier could confuse it; her eyes overflowed with hope in a brighter future, love for the One who would give her it and peace in the assurance of it all. “P” and I had met only a few minutes earlier. She was sowing together a beautiful formal top, to go with a matching skirt. Here we were, in her native country, hours from her hometown, yet hidden away. She was studying sowing in a fish-farm/sowing-school moonlighting as an educational facility for Christians who, in this country, were widely persecuted.

With her basic English and my even more basic knowledge of her mother tongue, we had managed to communicate to one another that I worked as a nurse and couldn’t sow half as well as she could, and that after her education here, she would go back to her village and hopefully earn a living to support herself and her family. She told me she was progressing well and nearing the end of her first and final trimester of training. “Will you remember me?” she asked, as our conversation neared it’s end. I looked back at her quizzically. She repeated her question, “will you remember me?”

In reality, it’s not just travel that changes us, but life, and the people we encounter throughout.

MLblog8.jpeg

What catches your eye first; the signs for guided tours of a city, or the people of the city?
Here, what catches your eye first; what’s on the outside, the attractive, luscious greenery or what’s on the inside, the marks of a laborious but fruitful education?
South-East Asia, 2017 © Marie-Louise Disant

Rocking the boat

When we let the Lord into our lives, we see life and all that it encompasses, in a whole new light. In the eloquent, wise words of C.S. Lewis,

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. 

If we allow those we meet on our travels to broaden our views, question our opinions and observe our traditions through a fresh lens of inquiry, we might just learn a thing or two. When we allow God to rock the boat, He makes the ordinary Extraordinary.

Those whom I’ve met on my travels, like “P”, or travelled with, like “M”, have shown me this in a very practical sense; sharing a beautiful meal with me when they had little to share themselves, or opening their home to me at a very unpractical time for them.

MLblog9.jpg

A glimpse into a South-East Asian fish farming setup…
What greater purpose can our small businesses and workplaces serve? How can we glorify the Lord and serve Him and His people in our respective, secular jobs?
This fish-farm trains persecuted pastors and their families to ensure that they might provide a continuous and stable living for themselves. 
Radical, by David Platt, really helped me work through this question.
South-East Asia, 2017 © Marie-Louise Disant

Travelling beyond tourism

Travel isn’t just about tourism. Travel, I believe, is more than just ticking the boxes on our bucket list or fulfilling our lifelong dreams and desires. It’s more than seeing the sights, tasting the local cuisine and wandering the walks.

Travelling beyond tourism, to the people, has taught me much about life, and most importantly, about my God. It has taught me about who He is (His identity), and where He is (everywhere, from the top of Ilha Grande in Brazil to the depths of the Shehy Mountain valley in Ireland) and what He is (His character). The Lord has taught me these things through His word, but also through His people, and those I meet that are not of Him.

In the beauty of His Creation, I see Him.

In the restoration of His fallen, broken people, I see Him.

In His unending grace, travelling mercies and offer of relationship with us, I see Him.

We will all experience travel to some degree, though some more than others. How we experience travel however, may well differ greatly from one person to the next. We will travel for different reasons and in different seasons, but at some point, especially in today’s world, either we will become travellers, or the travellers will come to us.

As others travel more and more, most of us will encounter different cultures and worldviews at some point, even on our very own doorstep.

Are we willing to look past the veneer of obvious but lacklustre tourist attractions, to the people, their worldview, their culture?

“P”, with only four words, had managed to turn me upside down and inside out. Suddenly filled with emotion, I found my entire view of travel challenged. Was I mostly going to remember the fish-farm, the cities and towns, the night markets; or “P”, those I had met in the underground churches and the missionaries that worked with them?

What will you remember from your travels?

Who will you remember?

How will you remember them?

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.

MLblog5

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…

MLblog6

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.

MLblog7

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:

20171202_082446

 

  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.

20171126_192539

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.

20171202_084000

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.

20171202_143151

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?

20171202_145918

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:

20171126_171859.jpg

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.

20171202_164348

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