A time to reflect on travel

For those of you who regularly follow along on here, you’ll perhaps be surprised to hear that there’s still very few people talking about faith and travel. Although we’ve had the rise of the Christian Travelers’ Network from the States, the River Communities worldwide, and other smaller groups across the globe, the conversation as it stands, hasn’t progressed a huge amount yet.

With Covid19, does it really matter?

That’s a question I’ve been given a few times in rhetorical form recently, with people stating that travel does not matter at all, and that such pandemics focus us on what really matters. But with all due respect to those ‘asking the question’, I want to propose that it does indeed matter. And it matters a lot.

Yes, Covid19 would take away travel for a few months, but already countries have opened up their borders again, yearning for economic freedom via tourism. Already, thousands have been counting down the days til they could book flights again (days which have now past, with many having booked their first trips already). And already, measures to circumnavigate the Covid restrictions, have been thought about ten times over. Travel is not disappearing for now, even if many travel companies and airlines, went under. New ones will soon pop up to replace them.

In fact, until collective responsibility for things like the environment, sing sweeter songs than the freedom of individualism, I could imagine that the dream of travel will always remain with us. What a 3 month break did, was allow the traveller some time to regroup, reflect on past travel experiences, and tweak the plan for the journey ahead. For if Alain de Botton is to be believed, part of the travel experience is heightened, by the suspense of the build-up to it, not to mention the kindling of the fond memories of past trips, reminiscing of great days.

The traveller’s delight is not just in feeling the warm rays hitting our skin as we lie in pools of Caribbean sun, but in finding ourselves again loitering in such places, long after we have left, still seemingly enjoying the same rays conjured up by nothing more than the longing heart resting again on an Instagram photo, a firmly lodged memory or a sensual experience brought back up from deep within us where we hide our pleasurable moments we don’t want to release.

So it was with great joy that I found two Australians realising that this is precisely the time we must talk about travel, while we are in a time of reflection, analysing and planning. In fact, there is no better time, before our travel pulses start to beat at an uncontrollable rate, leading us to take off again across borders and boundaries.

“This is precisely the time we must talk about travel”

And in most situations that I’m heavily invested, most topics which my emotions are aroused and most times in life when I’m going through something evocative, I’m not in a good place to take a step back and see things through an accurate lens of whether it is doing me any good, or whether I indeed am falling far short of what I was called to be or do. I’m too invested in certain outcomes.

And so despite the yearnings for travel of this Covid season, and despite the warm fondness in which I scroll Instagram, I still think it is this season that will allow us talk about travel in a far more constructive way than before.

  • How will we re-build the travel industry in healthier forms?
  • How can we make countries less dependent on our (somewhat colonial) travel?
  • How can we make the most of travel, in God’s eyes?
  • Are there sweeter songs we can dance to, than the travel songbook can provide alone?
  • Are there patterns of life or of our hearts, that the last 3 months have challenged or revealed?

[These two other Christians in Australia who I mentioned, joined in engaging with the topic of travel during these days. They too, saw no better time than the present to open up our hearts and see what we’re missing out on. Catch Michael Jensen (Anglican) and Megan Powell Du Toit (Baptist) on the “With All due Respect” podcast here, interviewing SMBC lecturer Stephen Liggins about the topic here.]

Fancy using these next months to think about travel?

As someone who has travelled into a different culture on a gap year, I can really relate to the book. It would have been helpful to have read it before going to Uganda and I would recommend it for anyone going on a similar trip.

Oscar, recent graduate from Ireland

Why not check out ‘Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart‘? And if you want to have a chance of getting a free copy soon, follow me on Twitter or Instagram or IVP Books on Facebook where I’ll have a give-away soon. You can also see an interview with me on IVP’s page on July 29th, as we celebrate the opening of Ireland to travel, following on from the virus season.

#TravelinTandem Chapter 7: Extra Material

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Destination unknown!

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

Will the world burn? Or are we headed for restoration or a mix? Some borrowed thoughts from 1 Peter here.

Travel: a metaphor used for life

Our travel dreams are too small. Some thoughts that shaped this chapter.

Odysseus and a government monitoring travel

Travelling to find yourself

Someone who paints a far better, more persuasive picture than I do is Glynn Harrison in his book about sexuality “A better story”.

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The misty scenes remind me of the lack of clarity we sometimes feel in trying to find ourselves.

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

As I recently made a reading list of what books I’d read in the last 7 years, I noticed a distinct lack of eschatology (end times) on it. And by that, I don’t just mean end times debates about what will happen, but heart-warming thinking and meditating upon the new heavens and the new earth. And that’s all the worse for me – I’m missing out. So often I get lost in philosophising over what I don’t know, or getting angry and arguing about what precise end-times view someone holds, instead of marvelling at what is to come. It’s where I’ve found Nancy Guthrie’s latest book “Even better than Eden” to be a wonderful start.

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Father Ted: exemplary of where conservative culture gets confused with Christianity, and we go round telling people to stop doing things without anything positive.

Feedback from readers on the chapter:

Interestingly this chapter contains the most shared quotation so far: that “Christian culture” should not be our goal – making ourselves comfortable in our own societies (pg. 132). Here’s one example of a review that spoke of it. I find it fascinating that this should be something that the generation of travellers would be passionate about. So why do you think that is?

From living amongst them, and from my own heart, it’s obvious that the culture they react against is the over-politicised, right-wing conservatism, that cares a lot for enforcing “moral laws” (think: abortion, drugs, sexuality, gender etc) but are not as evidently mixing and mingling with, and helping those they are perceived to be campaigning against (often they are not campaigning against them at all, but their lack of engagement on the ground makes it appear that way and implicitly speaks volumes).

And whilst the traveller’s critique is often a fair one, I do wonder whether our own travelling culture needs also challenged here – as we sit creating our own conservative culture in hipster coffee shops, lauding our travel stories to each other from craft-brewing pubs, and going out of our way to know everything about what everyone is doing via social media, without engaging with them. The result, is arguably not much different, in terms of engaging meaningfully with people. Perhaps slightly less influence on national laws, and slightly less public square bitterness towards Christendom. But if we can expect that simply by sitting quietly drinking lattes and engaging positively with the world’s best sights, coffee and news headlines, will win the next generation to Christ, we will be sorely disappointed.

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Looking up, a path is always far harder to spot than looking back!

#TravelinTandem Chapter 6: Extra Material

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Just before the arrival of our gunman

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

Cross centred travel

When intentionality kills the dream

Does living “dead” to self mean Flight-free-travel? I wrote a ‘starter’ about the environment here and would love to have included more on this relevant topic, but for space (and lack of expertise), it was rightly given the axe. I’m not yet convinced that personal responsibility of carbon cutting by not flying, is a significant enough thing to stop me visiting my family, or other gospel callings. You can convince me otherwise – I’m open!

When we miss out on joy

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Enjoying dinner with sublime views

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

One helpful resource that shaped my thinking on this chapter was the Assemblies of God (USA) resource “The LiveDead Journal“. Made by Dick Brogden and team, this helpful devotional journal seeks to shape our hearts into a attitude of worship, even when that is hard. I have copies I’m willing to post to those in UK/Ireland, or for those in America, it’s easily orderable.

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Sunset after the gunman had left

Feedback from readers on the chapter:

“You need to set higher standards of sacrifice Peter. Where you have thrived in your life is sacrificial living but you need to call others explicitly to that. No books are written anymore about sacrifice after your IFES predecessor Howard Guinness wrote his. Why did you not say more about what living dead looks like? You’ve only touched on the basics.” (Reader in Belfast)

The trouble with writing a book about sacrifice on any topic, is that no-one picks up a book on travel, to be told not to travel. Similarly with enjoying any of God’s good gifts to us. But asides from that (which hopefully would not have stopped me), the article I linked to above contains a few reasons I’m nervous about delving far more into what sacrifice should explicitly look like in your life and mine but I might summarise why I didn’t say more in 3 ways:

  1. The Scriptures only say so much. General principles give radical calls to us to sacrifice, but often leave things to be worked out in our own context.
  2. Your life is different to mine – what might be sacrificial to me, may not be anything to someone else. My culture, socio-economic class, language, physical ability, mental capacity and personality will all play into this (though are also often used as excuses to neglect thinking through an area).
  3. We must primarily bathe ourselves in the good news of our Lord Jesus, and who He is – otherwise strict and continual calls for sacrifice will wear us out quickly, point more towards ourselves than to Him, and rob us of a gospel that makes us feel like His yoke is easy and burden is light. The hard thing, is that this “higher life theology” might still be using “Jesus” language.

Someone once said to me, that you can tell what people take away from what you’ve taught, by what (or whether) they pray afterwards. I think that’s been so helpful to me as I’ve led Bible studies and given talks. Similarly, when I get people on both extremes of a spectrum complaining, I realise that I’m probably at a healthy middle-ground, of holding the tensions of scripture (though not always, of course).

My prayer is that at the end of this book (assuming you’re not too overwhelmed by the challenge, to get to the end of the book!), you’ll be overflowing with an awareness of God’s good character in different ways, that will make us all willing to grow in our Christ-like response to Him.

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To jump the gorge or not to jump?  I said not!

#TravelinTandem Chapter 5: Extra Material

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On a paradise beach with a friend

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

For those who are keen on travel being mission-centred, I’ve written a 5 part series of posts here, of which many have been reading and responding to recently. I warn you, they go slightly deeper than most, and may take a few minutes to read, particularly when you see the Venn diagram!

Travel in the New Testament (some of the loose thoughts that the book derived from):

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Roman roads….when in Rome

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

I mention “Identification, Persuasion and Invitation” in the chapter, and here are some resources that further expand on that. Well worth listening to over the next while – these principles have shaped me enormously in life.

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Free lunch time talks in the university put on by the Christian Union, trying to identify, persuade and invite people to believe in good news.

Feedback from readers on the chapter:

Amidst many positive things that you’ve said, your questions mean I must admit that I haven’t been to Vanuatu. Nor a few other places in the book (I tell stories of the friends I mention). Perhaps editing may make it seem like I was in all these places, but for the sake of clarity, I should say this now – not that it affects anything in the book! This chapter originally started with a story of my sister and her husband (from Vanuatu) but was later removed to make the chapter more digestible.

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Miles from “normal” civilisation.  Who will reach the nomadic people here?

#TravelinTandem Chapter 4: Extra Material

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Exploring Arabian deserts

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

Travel in the Old Testament

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Treading arid gorges in intense heat.

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

Does travel restore our faith in humanity?

Home: a topic that so much more could be said about, albeit a sub-theme of the chapter’s main aim of taking us through the Old Testament. Here’s one way a university in England got people engaging on the topic with talks and free lunches on the theme all week (see video below), but I’d love to hear your thoughts on “home” too:

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Just like the many visitors  to Solomon, the nations come to our doorstep.  Pictured here, the local International Student Cafe.

Feedback from readers on the chapter:

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CouchSurfing, Arab-style!

#TravelinTandem Chapter 3: Extra Material

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One of the souks, where we started off

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

A book review of Ministering in Shame/Hono(u)r Cultures which delves deeper into some of the issues I’d raised.

The potential consequences of getting shame/honour culture wrong: martyrdom.  And then some feedback from those far wiser than I.

God’s Big Picture is one classic that I recommend everyone reads at some point.  But for those of you who aren’t readers, here’s it on video.

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Souks are more relaxing for some than others!

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

Top tips for a day in the souks

More material about souks and culture

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Trying to ascertain what goods are genuine local ware, and what are imported or replica kit, is hard at times!

Feedback from readers on the chapter:

“For this chapter alone, the book is worth it to even the most experienced Christian or cross-cultural worker.  The implications of this chapter are so profound, I’ve to go away and think more about it all, and how it affects my life, nevermind those travelling overseas.” 
(A kind, retired, reviewer in Ireland)

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Further along the Arabian window, you see temperature gauges on the street – this wasn’t as high as they went!

#TravelinTandem Chapter 2: Extra Material

[This is extra material to go alongside Chapter 2 to “Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart” (IVP UK, October 2018).  Video content, photos, questions, blog posts and responses will be continually added over time.]

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The stunning remains of ancient Tunisia that helped me name this blog, but also speak into what the chapter finishes with: beautiful ruins

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

This one is a link to Dan “The Rebel Cyclist”‘s  blog who shares of his broken moments.  You’ll meet him throughout the book several times – he has an incredible story to tell, I’m sure you’ll agree!

What about when I can’t stomach intentionality in my travels and just need rest, and only rest?  Here’s one for you.

On why travel doesn’t restore my faith in humanity fully.

More on “aljabr” and why “beautiful ruins” have stuck with me so much.

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I did say they were stunning, didn’t I?  Not a tourist in sight.

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

a. Find labelling everything a ruin, too depressing?  Good news.  Christianity is the only worldview who allows you to stare into the blackest of black, and still have great reason to hope.  So please don’t stop looking into the black – it makes His rescue all the more incredibly bright!

b. I mentioned how our own stories can so often dominate the conversations we’re in, or be the things that we choose to define ourselves by. 

That, done for the wrong reason, I said leads to making less of Jesus’ story and more of ourselves.  We invert the “He must become greater, I must become less”.

But what does the opposite look like?  Some will never mention themselves, will shake their head when you compliment them, and will pride themselves in asking amazing questions to open up conversations about others (and they can be good questions).  But this, taken to the extreme is equally problematic.  People know nothing about you as a human, because you’re either always asking questions to get others to talk or telling people about an abstract Jesus, when they really just would be more impressed to see what difference He makes in a real human life.

Chapter 6 will explain more of what living for Jesus’ story really looks like.  But from this chapter, you’ll tell that our silences, our questions, our stories and even our evangelism, all have their “beautiful” side and their “ruin” side to some extent.  But before I’m into another blog post…. 

c. Travel as an educator

The secular mantra is that travel educates.  It’s wonderful because it stops any objective bigotry or thinking we’re better than anyone else.  All humans are wonderful….or so the story goes.  But much as travel can educate, it can also create the most selfish, absorbed people ever, who have no ambition to truly humble themselves and learn.  We’ll meet one of them soon…

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Fun video to go withthe chapter:

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A Roman Colosseum in better shape and with far fewer tourists than the one in Rome – another beautiful ruin in Tunisia

#TravelinTandem Chapter 1: Extra Material

[This is extra material to go alongside Chapter 1 to “Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart” (IVP UK, October 2018).  Video content, photos, questions, blog posts and responses will be continually added over time.]

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In the light of the Midnight Sun, Tromso, Norway – 21/06/15

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

On getting distracted with Genesis

On contrasting creation accounts – an Islamic theology of travel

On environment – something that needs far more mention than I could give it in the book, and probably fits in this chapter’s exploration of what it is for a world to be made good by God.  More here.

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What better to do than go hiking and camping 12 hours after we finished our first ever marathon?!

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

On evangelism: We sometimes think creation is good because we get to tell people about our creator.  “Aha!  They’ll never be able to deny him when they see this [insert scene]

But I’m not sure taking the quickest way to sharing of our God is always the best, particular if you have a thinker with you.  Partly because it immediately raises questions of suffering (as soon as they’re with us and see it together), that only written revelation can give a satisfactory response to.  If you’re wanting confrontation, perhaps.  And that’s not always bad.  But 90 times out of a hundred, I prefer to sit with people in their questions, and work together towards a solution, rather than coming with a perceived answer to someone’s non-question.  More on this another time.

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3am in the morning and still bright as daytime!

And your video for the chapter: enjoying life and all the random craic that comes with it…

Follow on episode here

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A rare walk through civilisation

#TravelinTandem Introduction: Extra Material

[This is extra material to go alongside the Introduction to “Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart” (IVP UK, October 2018).  Video content, photos, questions, blog posts and responses will be continually added over time.  The introductory chapter is short, and so I include a special video with a short lunchtime talk I recently gave at a university.]

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The golden Atlantic shores of Western Morocco where we sat, 4 travellers together.

BLOG POSTS that engage with this chapter:

What Augustine never said

 

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Sunset by the crashing waves

Some tangential thoughts loosely to do with the chapter:

  1. Know any female missionary friends in settings where single females aren’t accepted so much?  Perhaps you could ask them whether they want company on holiday somewhere?  Often it’s the only chance they’ll get.

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One of several dinner-selling friends we made that day

A video made for students wanting to know why they should explore more:

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God’s Biker: motorcycles and misfits

(More about this forthcoming title can be found here)

This book felt like a letter.  A letter written to me.  But that would be silly, given I’d never heard the name Sean Stillman, nevermind known him enough to receive correspondence.  Or at least it was a story that resounded deeply within me enough that I felt someone had developed mind-reading technology to know the questions that were on my heart.  It’s a story of a travelling man – a man who journeyed much by motorbike.  But it’s the story of someone who’s story seems so ordinary, so normal, yet achieved (and still achieves) so much.  It’s someone whose life-story resonates with what life is really like.

Sean’s personal story, of how he grew up through frustrations of church, coming to loveGod's Biker motorbikes and also to follow Jesus, was a gripping yet ordinary tale like many others we might have heard before.  But from there, story after story tell of a life well-lived, using his passions, gifts and upbringing to best try and fathom how to take seriously Jesus’ call to make disciples in a broken world.

What do you do when you’re a biker, who spends many hours on the road in your squad, and hangs out with the most unlikely of company to ever enter a church building?

With many from traditional churches who engage with me about travel, they would want to tell Sean to stop travelling and settle down.  To not risk so much.  Perhaps even to cut his hair and keep better company.  But Sean’s missional heart longs for the biking community who aren’t going to respond so well to the “average” church evangelism (whatever that means), and sees that to engage these people with the good news, lived out in community in word and deed, is what Christ is calling him to.  He grasps that in the post-modern travelling world, the travelling, biking community, may not be able to be reached (or would be far harder to be reached) by staying put and knocking on their door.

Equally, through seeing folk from within these communities come to faith, he realises that crossing a threshold of a church building for them, is about as foreign as most of us entering a hangout of a biking squad!  A different language is used.  Different topics of conversation.  Different ways of expressing themselves.  Different hobbies.  A different life.

Throughout the book, Sean tells heartwarming stories that honour the Lord Jesus, tell of his own struggles and provide the ways he has attempted to get round these “problems”.  What I thought at points was going to be a rant against institutionalised religion was actually very constructively put struggles, longings, and questions, with obvious attempts to take what was Scriptural about church life and apply it in his own context.  His ordination within Anglicanism and description of Zac’s Place services (that sound remarkably similar to many churches I know!), are obviously signs that in all his wrestling, he didn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, but has helpfully guided us step by step through how and why he has done everything he has done, with other people.

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Realising that even within the diverse biking communities, that God calls people to be church with far more than “people like us”, he shows a love for such diverse people that goes far beyond the biking community, overflowing into other “unlikelies” within society. but also through to those more typically associated with much of our middle-class evangelicalism too.

All in all, Sean paints a picture of church, that many across our cities would say “if all church were like this, I’d be there in a flash”.  But it’s a story that goes far beyond Sean, to other communities up and down the UK and beyond, all resembling warm communities that embrace the outsider, love the unlovely and are truly good news in motorbike form.

You may not agree with every minor way Sean takes his fresh expression of church-life (though do we ever agree with anyone fully?), but what this book will do, is warm your heart on the inside, by showing you an ordinary person, who was transformed and equipped by God to faithfully live out the ordinary command to love God and love your neighbour as yourself.

What marvelous ways God uses us in the world to do His works!  And what wonderful lessons we can all learn, from the easily-read pages in this book.  You don’t need to have interest in motorbikes to find principles that we do well to apply to any demographic of the population who would struggle to enter our church gatherings.

A Sunday afternoon reading, well spent.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

(Ephesians 3, outlining how such weak things as church to the human eye, are actually God’s chosen means to bring about His eternal purposes)

[I must confess being given an advance proof copy by SPCK of this book and asked to review it, although by no means am I expected to therefore give a favorable review]