Having looked around for the last four to five years at what Christians are intentionally doing in the travel industry and, more often than not, what people who love-travel-and-happen-to-be-Christian, are creating, I want to suggest a few opportunities for followers of Jesus who have a heart for travel, and something that may act as a warning and an opportunity at the same time.
[I caveat all of this with the usual footnotes, declaring that I am not able to search all the hashtags in other languages (knowing only French, English and bits and pieces of others), and much as I’ve tried my hardest with networking and asking around the globe, I’ve of course not got exhaustive reach to find everyone. Please, if you know of folk who I should connect with, pass on details or send them this post.]
To do that, let’s take a look at two videos, both produced here in the island of Ireland by (in some ways) very different people. The first we’ll dig into deeply and the second we’ll just throw out a couple of challenges to you if you’re a follower of Jesus and love travel!
- A Secular Invitation to travel
What makes a travel video a secular one? And how would travel through secular humanist eyes be different to through the eyes of a follower of Jesus?
Most Christians will happily watch anything that doesn’t have overt and explicit actions of “sin” in it. For example, some might complain to the TV regulating authorities if a narrative involves particular explicit sins (sexual, violent or other). They may try to justify how that is different to watching James Bond (for example) whose treatment of females has often been horrific, and who glorifies particular views of humanity which one might find hard to sustain from a Biblical text. And there are many other actions, emphases and plotlines that Christian morals in the West have gradually excused or got used to that are far from ‘Christian’ but that Christians are quite happy enjoying (rightly or wrongly) as part of a series, show or film.
If we draw these lines for Christian travellers, then nearly everything in the travel industry will be Christian to us, or at least permissable to engage with as Christians. But let’s stop for a minute and see where that leaves us. I present to you video 1 below. Kevin Penrose is the Wild Irish Wanderer on Instagram and has his own YouTube channel. I pick one of his videos to critique, not because I have anything against him, but in fact because he is one of Ireland’s up and coming travel videographers, finding his feet in the trade. Why not enjoy the stunning videography he captures of our island below, but as you do so, ask yourself this:
Is this a Christian travel video? Why or why not? Or could it be neutral?
[Before I say anything, let me say that most of what I frame this discussion around comes stolen from the pen of Dan Strange who wrote a very accessible guide “Plugged In” which helps us think more about all of this.]
So what’s your verdict, Christian travel video or not?!
Well let’s look at the evidence (under headings you can use again in future).
a) Who made it?
For many things, including this one, we can’t be too sure whether the creator is a Christian or not. Here, I don’t know Kevin and have not seen a mad amount of his creative work to say any more. But let’s remember, plenty of Christians have made things that don’t reflect the glory of God or explicitly mention faith, so knowing the answer to this question doesn’t always tell us whether it’s a Christian travel video per se.
b) What does it say?
And not just audibly. What does it feel like? What image does it show us? What narrative does it scream?
Well, Kevin gives us an incredible view of [God’s] world in Ireland. Stunning shot after shot take our breath away. In this sense, one might say there is nothing wrong for us as Christians to be watching this! But listen to the narrative he gives over this. Perhaps you can see some things in the narrative that ring true to the gospel/Bible and we would agree with. Other things are violently opposed to the good news of Jesus. It’s a common narrative that you can find similarly elsewhere in famous travel videos (like this one). I’ve printed some of it here for you to see:
This year was supposed to be different.
We all had goals to accomplish, dreams to chase and plans in place, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Instead, we were taught to slow down, rest and recharge.
Our way of life changed forever. We were given time to think, reflect and appreciate the important things in life.
We always plan for tomorrow rather than seizing today.
You are in control. You can make it happen. We finally have the opportunity to live in the moment. Take that trip. Do what makes you happy. Nobody knows what the future holds. But just remember, the choice is yours. So before we go any further, let me ask you this:
What will it take for you to truly live?
c) Who engages with this video and what is the intended affect?
Sometimes when there aren’t such explicit words to narrate the video or show, the messages can be so much more subtle. For example, there’s another STUNNING film called “Baraka” (part of a trilogy) that is worth getting to see on a big screen. It has no words at all (for over an hour!) but is directed and crafted with the explicit intention to persuade you of pluralism and some western liberal/secular values, all done through the lens of eastern thought and powerful imagery and sequences.
Here things are more obvious. In this narrative, who are we as human beings? What place do we have in the universe? What’s gone wrong? What’s the solution? What happens when we die?
Kevin either believes this message, or thinks we’ll share his video more if he says it: We control our own destiny, should live in the moment and make every second count. The fact that the first half of the message was about Covid cancelling all our plans and showing us we weren’t in control, doesn’t seem to phase him. And besides, with footage like he has playing in the foreground, we don’t really mind what he says, as long as it sounds cool and empowers us, right??
And he’s got us. So many of the things do seem true to some extent. But this, without he or many of us realising it, is anti-gospel. It’s not good news. Us being the prime ones in our life who are in control isn’t good news – life would suck if we were on the throne ruling over our reality – what a limited perspective that would be! And how daunting to feel we had to control it all. Us living only for our immediate happiness will ruin us long-term and hurt us as we all have immature desires that we are glad we didn’t act on, at times!
Some other questions that may help you think through the connections to the good news of Jesus, and the disconnect/confrontation with the good news:
- How is the message of the media we watch interpreting or reinterpreting God’s good news?
- Are there things that are beautiful, good and true about what is said?
- Are there things that are ugly, bad for humanity and false about what is being said?
- Are there good things (that God gives us) that the creator is turning into ultimate things (when we lose sight of God)?
So where does that leave us?
Well you’ll see that some of the video connects with the good news we know, and quite a bit of it tries to persuade you of a different reality. Should we watch it? Well, personally my conscience allows me to watch it, my context says nothing against watching it, and my character is not predominantly being shaped by such things. So I’m happy. But for others who struggle with lusting after travel, spending all their money on travel or unproductively scrolling YouTube videos of travel all their working days, it may not be wise or helpful to feed their hunger with this (or other travel videos for that regard).
The trouble more lies with the many of us who see no nudity, no blasphemy and no violence in the video and think “Oh, this is completely neutral for me to watch as a Christian”. Video after video gets consumed unthinkingly, and soon we’re just eating a steady diet of secular anti-gospel, and occasionally sticking a worship video in there to be Christian. Now this may not seem like a problem, until we realise just how much it shapes us. If we unthinkingly are listening to these things more than we are gospel voices (the Bible, other Christans etc.), we’ll soon find ourselves swayed from our faith, buying the false promises held out to us in the shiny menu of secularism. Before biting into our food and finding it to be lacking any nourishment or diverse flavour at all.
You’ll see it on dozens of Insta profiles, blogs and travel sites. The word “Christian” will be there, but otherwise it looks pretty much the same as any other. Perhaps it will mention the beauty of God’s world, a Christian playlist to listen to or a short-term mission trip they were on, but otherwise it’s all the same. Similar language, similar desires. And of course some of that is not a worry! But in many ways, we’re just imbibing secularism and sticking our Christian label on top. We need to do some thinking.But before you groan and think we’re going all super-intellectual, do not fear! Thinking does not mean we can’t relax and enjoy videos. It doesn’t mean we need to have an hour after every film to philosophically analyse everything. And like many things we start to be aware of – it comes more naturally the more we get used to it.
- If you’re wanting to think more about all of culture, media and things you consume, then Dan Strange’s book is a great place to start. It’s super-short, practical and gives a framework that’ll help you with all of life. I’ve linked to it further up in this post.
- If you’re wanting to think more about travel, travel videos and travel culture and how it both connects to the good news and robs of us the good news, then my book is perhaps a good place to start. It’s got the advantage of being written by a travel-lover, for travel-lovers, so I hope it’s easily accessible.
But now, let me get on very briefly to two invitations to adventure which I will ask you to join me in…
2. A Christian invitation to travel:
The video above is a Christian travel company in Northern Ireland who seek to partner Christians/churches in high-evangelical populations of the world with those church planting in areas with low evangelical populations (or none). Seeing them develop some videos has been fantastic even though they aren’t with the same aim or even the same target audience as would be needed to connect with most travel-lovers. Still, these folks have a depth of theology to them and have really thought through faith and travel.
They are one of many voices that will be needed in the days ahead to lift us out of a shallow mimicking of what the world has to offer us regarding travel. Such a mimicry under the guise of “Christian travel” will simply lure many to chase after travel, make it their heartbeat, and wonder why worshipping God on his terms, doesn’t seem as attractive anymore.
So there’s my first invitation: would you become a traveller who seeks to wrestle with how their faith engages with their travel, and form a theology of travel? If not, you’re missing out. Travelling without Jesus shaping your travels will leave you with a half-hearted vision for travel. And it’ll leave you with a version of travel which hurts others more too.
My second invitation to followers of Jesus is a more practical one: would you become a traveller who seeks to apply their theology of travel to every part of their travelling? We are looking for:
- Travel bloggers: who are more concerned with what they produce and how they engage with others, than in chasing blog hits or YouTube subscriptions. You will feel the freedom!
- Videographers: who may develop to share top class videography, but not to make their own name great, to make themselves look impressive to the world or to repeat the many messages that are already out there, but to reflect some of the glory of God (explicitly stated or more likely not) and powerfully capture the goodness of sustainable, ethical travel under the good Lordship of Jesus.
- Travel company workers: who are not completely ruined by the pandemic downfall in tourism and travel, because their identity is in the Travel-maker, and their hope is not in profit-margins, but in the creator of Travel himself, and helping others meet him.
- Frequent flyers: who care passionately for the local Church, and shape their life round investing deeply in relationships of discipleship and being present in meaningful ways for both Christians and those who don’t yet know Jesus.
- Travel-lovers: who shape their life round taking up their cross and following Jesus, rather than maximising their own pleasure in the same way others in the industry do.
- Instagram-ers: who let God’s word and His voice shape their priorities and desires, over the stunning images which they can scroll through before even getting up in the morning.
- Ordinary Christians: who have learned the contentment that comes with knowing Jesus, who are daily not just living for their Annual Leave, or the next chance they get to make a break.
- Community Hosts: who host travellers from round the world either formally (through hostels and other spaces) or informally (through Couchsurfing and other networks) and shape that through the lenses of faith.
- Travel writers: who write books from a Christian perspective, who write travel devotionals to help stir hearts to worship, who write evangelistically to persuasively introduce fellow travellers to Jesus.
- Travel Community Leaders: who facilitate geographical communities where Christians can be developing some of the gifts above and working out a theology of travel together as a community.
And I could go on….
There’s space for everyone at the table. And like everything in the Christian life, we have to start somewhere. So don’t worry about getting everything perfect to start with – we’re here to help each other onwards with that.
Don’t know where to start?
Drop me a line to see if there are others in your part of the world, or gather a group of friends together (while travel is still limited) to read Dan’s book or my own book in a book-group (online or otherwise) to get you thinking. And let us know if you’re already doing some of these things!