Microadventure day 4: voices of the world

Part 4 of our microadventures series continues but you can find the rest (as well as an introduction to microadventures) by clicking here.


What travels all the way round the world but never leaves its corner?
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A stamp!

Or so the old joke goes. But having simply taken us out for a walk to the unknown yesterday, I thought we’d go round the globe today, whilst remaining in our own little corners!

What many relish about travel, is the educational perspective it gives you, as you often see the world through other lenses. And as Christians, being united to our brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe, this world perspective can theoretically come without leaving our houses or towns – as we join with the global Church and learn from each other long past any fleeting chance to meet with each other in person. Here’s a few ways I’ve done that today from my living room:

  1. Surfing USA
    I’ve been chatting with the Christian Travelers’ Network leader in the USA, hearing what Coronavirus in the States is like, the challenges of life there and how the Church is responding. The bit that was recorded (alas) was me waffling on about microadventures, the future of the travel industry and many more travel related things that you can listen to, here.

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  2. Learning from our African friends
    A fellow IVP author shared this on Twitter recently:
    “A group of African Christian leaders once said to me: when you western people suffer, it is unusual for you. You think you need to know why. This reveals your temptation towards rationalism. When you can’t find out why, you are tempted to question, doubt and then dismiss God.

    When we suffer on the other hand, it is normal to us. We don’t think we need to answer questions about why. It is common in a fallen world. So our instinct is to seek God, humble ourselves and worship.

    One of the lessons from the book of Job is to not ask the wrong questions in the face of catastrophe. As if getting answers and understanding is what we need to help us.

    The necessary answers to catastrophe are rarely academic ones, regardless of whether they are correct.

    There is no doubt about God’s agency in Job’s story, but it turnedout not to be profitable to speculate much more than that. What was needed was not THE Answer, but lamenting, support and most of all – God.”


    I’m not sure I have much more to say. How we have robbed ourselves of a theology of mission being participating in suffering! Rather than the ultimate goal of our prayers/lives being our comfort. Teach me O Lord what this might look like!

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  3. Race the World: South America
    I’m one who doesn’t watch many things on screens (because why would you watch someone else doing something, when you could be experiencing it yourself? And on-screen entertainment is so slow-moving compared to reading, if one wants to learn.) but I have succumbed to a few travel documentaries/soaps recently. BBC have Race around the World, 4od have Travels of a Gringo (and of course for those outside of the UK, there’s plenty to enjoy on YouTube, Netflix and many other places).

    I’d probably categorise them in different ways – I turn to some places to learn in intentional ways, I turn to other things to relax and inspire me, and some are a mixture of both, like the two aforementioned series which are giving me a hilarious overview of South America – the continent that I know least about (probably because it’s so ‘Christian’ that I’ve never thought about its needs very much?).

    The one thing I tend to stay clear of, unless I’m wanting marketing tips or videography demonstrations, is pleasure travel videos on YouTube. Sitting watching carefully curated videos of professional travellers, of infinity pools in sunny resorts, luxury ice hotels in the arctic, dare-devil cliff jumps and other such things, while stunning, don’t tend to create in me a healthy love for the world or how I can serve God in it. Perhaps the hashtag #travelporn or #wanderlust says an awful lot of what’s behind the fast-paced fake reality we long for, leaving me lusting after the travel brochure picture, the perfect travel video and forgetting the messy reality behind it. I’m not saying there’s anything objectively wrong with these either – I just don’t find a diet of them, helpful (or that creative – after a while of watching).

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  4. Praying from pole to pole
    Starting a tour of the 5 continents was always going to end in trouble with Antarctica! Did I really engage with people from there that day? Well, no. But I did get an email from a Christian friend who lives up in the Arctic amongst the Sami people in northern Norway. She reminded me that “isolation” isn’t really at all painful to them there – some quite often go days without seeing those outside of their family and so life goes on as normal! I suppose my regular contact with Christians round the globe by email is a little like letter-writing of old – ‘snail-mail’ to the modern-day individual!

    Still, I do love a deep email, speaking of the Lord, what God is doing, sharing photos and memories and spurring each other on. I was encouraged that day when it arrived, and I learnt yet more insights into the churches in such places and how we can pray for them (which let’s be real – I don’t do often…though I do like the habit of daily getting out Operation World, IFES World updates, or Joshua Project Unreached People Group of the Day and daily upholding up a radically different place and people).

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  5. An up-side-down videocall (Australia)
    I was meant to be off work and travelling this week with an old colleague visiting from Australia, my fiancee and a few other friends. But…of course I’m at home, sitting in my room for yet another evening. But it was a joy to at least call Australia and catch-up without the usual timezone constraints (as most of us can get away with flexi-hours, if we’re still working). Sadly, she had lost more than just a holiday when her trip was cancelled, but a trip that was to visit some future possible teams/locations to minister, and a visit to support missionaries working in hard places. Do you ever have those people who you call, who leave you humbled, in awe of God’s sovereign hand at work in the world, and delighting at Christ more, despite our sinfulness? I hope you do. And I love that this conversation was one of those.

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  6. A rebuke from Asia
    Well to be more precise, this one was actually from one of my own church community, in Europe, but the quoted voice was an Indian tweet that has done the rounds on social media, and that is worth reading the full thread by clicking below…

It’s times like these that put into perspective our cries that “we’re bored” isolating. Or even our very real fears that someone we know may suffer. It’s voices like these that we could do with shaping our lives more from day to day – when we know many in the world are not asking “will I die with the virus?” but “will I die of hunger or of the virus first?”

Dr Hiremath vents (as an Indian consultant) that rich travelers are to blame for the spread of such disease to poor places which can’t cope and don’t have the privilege we have. Should this put an end to our constant travel talk here and elsewhere? Will we wake up to what we are doing to our fellow human and to our climate by our travels? Such questions do indeed need to be wrestled with, as travel enthusiasts. There are serious questions to how we travel, which are to be thought through. But I’m not sure banning travel, or stopping talking about it, is the answer. Did less pleasure travel stop the Spanish Plague a century ago? Is it only certain western pleasure travel we should legislate against (only a fraction of all flights)? What would that look like? What about the Indian air industry which is (I’m informed) the third largest in the world?

These are complex questions with no easy answers. They deserved to be talked about more rather than less, if we are to reason with the world traveler and come to answers that will help all in the world, especially the least privileged. I hope this blog can continue to be a place for exactly that. Soon I might write on why we’re “micro-adventuring” in the middle of a world crisis.

  1. Coming Home (Europe)

But should these 6 visits to various cultural contexts and continents, all regularly happen in one day, we’d be all too exhausted to invest in local community where we live. And I know many who do ‘church’ with like-minded people online around the world, because they find the community more understanding, deeper and more authentic amongst open-minded travelers. The preaching bears in mind various cultural contexts, so keeps the main thing, the main thing. The prayers are made in light of world events and the darkest of dark in the world, but also the incredible things God is doing in various places – experienced first hand by many. The expectations of what Christ-like-ness is, are not culturally bound to political systems or culturally ingrained ways of living.

Yet, local church is what it is, for a reason. A random bunch of completely different, broken people, filled with His Spirit. Yes, every local church community would benefit from people who are aware of the world, can see clearly the strengths and weaknesses of cultures, and live out their connection to the worldwide body in very real ways.

But every traveler like me, would benefit from being humbled to serve people who are not-like-us. To learn to love the conservative individual who never leaves their home village. To be challenged in my extreme independence and use of time and money for my own goals. To sit under the authority of God’s Word in a community of people who know you well, rather than getting frustrated by the endless cultural faux-pas of sermons, and only meeting with those online who can’t really see your heart and life.

But thankfully, today was an unusual mix of experiences. And one that hopefully won’t take away from serving my local community here in my neighbourhood (and my church) in these hard weeks for many.


So what about you – how are you travelling the globe this week, learning about the world, joining with the global Church, and hearing voices that challenge you in your living? I hope you can #travelintandem

Enjoy!

Sounds from round the world

As my last post generated lots of controversy (not something I try to do on blogs posts, nor was it something that ought to have been controversial) and still has discussions ongoing of various natures, I thought I’d post something that we can all have our hearts warmed by, that unites us all.

I love world music, and from a secular level Nitin Sawhney opened my eyes to the spectacular diversity within even an individual culture, nevermind all cultures! His compositions, curations and investigative journeys into other cultures through the world of music, are something I’ve loved over the years. He gives a taste of incredible musicality mixed with his intellectual intrigue here in his TEDx performance.

But from a Christian perspective, I came across this, thanks to a friend who sings in the Sydney Missionary Bible College band “Badminton Road” who are about to launch an EP later this year. What a beautiful glimpse of Heaven! Would it make you want to travel differently in regards to language and visiting believers where you travel? I hope so!

And if I’m allowed to mention the Irish language twice in a row, it’s fantastic to see a verse as-Gaelige.

Urgency in Irish life

I’m not sure how much I realised culture impacts things until I’d lived in a few cultures.  Northern Irish culture; English culture; Irish culture; there’s nuanced differences between all of them.  But nuanced differences magnified by living out assumptions that there’ll all the same, sometimes make surprisingly large differences between all of them!  It’s what irks me most about comments from those who’ve travelled in eastern Europe (or anywhere for that matter) and declare all the cultures to be the same!  And sadly in my first few years of settling in Cork (and probably still) I’d a lot to grasp about those differences.  One of them is urgency.

How do we as Irish people display urgency?

I remember living with a couple of doctors once (yes, you guessed it, one of the ones who got married).  Coming down in to the kitchen one morning, already late for work, he stopped and put on the kettle and sat down to chat.  Looking at him slightly puzzled, he saw my face, said “haven’t seen you in a while bud, you want a cup of tea?”, and proceeded to chat away for another ten minutes.  Much as the British like their tea, I wonder whether they would not have scolded him and shoved him out of the door before the kettle boiled.

Equally I came from having lived in England nearly five years, where task-orientated life dominates.  You send someone an email, and if you don’t get a reply in a few days, it’s a fault on their part.  Landing in Cork, I started sending many, many emails.  I saw one recipient on the street a few weeks later who casually wandered over to me and said “ah Peter, how’s it going?  I see you sent me an email a few weeks ago.  Do you want to go for coffee now?”

Relational life is beautiful.

It took me a while to get round to seeing it as that, but it is.  At times frustrating, but still none-the-less beautiful.

A friend in Limerick similarly noted that when Limerick flooded a year or two ago, the process by which the local councillors and groups got together to work out a solution and an urgent action plan, was not a British task-orientated, exact plan.  In fact, to the on-looking British it may have even been considered lackadaisical.

Some would say to me that Irish people don’t do urgency.  But I’m not so sure that’s true, as I see plenty of situations we react to urgently, although it’s true that we seem to love some sense of spontaneity too.  I just wonder whether Irish urgency is indeed very different.  Which makes me wonder about those who believe they have an urgent message to proclaim.  Muslims, Mormons, Evangelical Christians, others.

I have sat down with Mormons who seem to have such urgency that they quite often struggle to engage with me as a human.  Perhaps their dualistic theology also leads to this (see here for more).  Interestingly many of my Muslim friends seem to get relational culture far better, as they come from even more relational backgrounds than I do (perhaps works-based/semi-pelagian religions tend towards a slower, relational lifestyle, given the impossibility of immediate, certain salvation??).  That is, until religion is mentioned, and then many that I know seem to change!

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Similarly I’ve sat next to British or some northern evangelicals who with tears in their eyes for the lost, wonder whether anyone else really cares, because no-one else is displaying such passion in the ways they are.  Equally, the lack of effort by us to culturally engage the more African-orientated “Redeemed Christian Churches of God” (the largest protestant denomination in Ireland, I believe), has meant that much frustration and division in CUs comes through cultural misunderstanding of some of these things.  “You’re just not passionate about the good news!” will often be the accusation.

But before this gets too long, I’ll leave you with two things I’m increasingly convinced of, and questions for you, of which I’d be grateful of your thoughts.

  • I’m increasingly convinced that the gospel demands urgency, and that this is part of the offence of the gospel because it shapes our means of bringing the gospel. As a philosopher I love “other possible world” hypothesis, but as a theologian (which we all are too), I’m not sure the Bible spends much time on them.  So when a Cork church leader recently said “I think if we had infinite time, God could bring everyone to Himself because we’d have all the time in the world to show them the warmth, beauty and truth of Christ and Christian community”, I’m not so sure I can agree or disagree (though I lean towards the latter).  Infinite time this side of eternity would so bend the Bible’s message that everything else would look distorted too (election, predestination, His means of bringing Himself glory etc).
  • I’m increasingly convinced that cultural displays of urgency are very different, and that we end up judging others for the way they display it. Street preaching; four spiritual laws; very direct conversations; endlessly posting things on facebook; I’m trying to figure out how an Irish person would do these or if they would at all.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an excuse for not being urgent, just a large question of whether some British, American or Nigerian ways of displaying urgency are really superior.

And so to my questions for you: what does urgency look like in your culture?  Where is it displayed?  What factors go into making a culture’s view on urgency?  Where do Irish values stop and borrowed values start in terms of urgency?  Does Biblical urgency ever call us to trump Irish ways of displaying that?  And where does our humanity fit into all this urgency?

Over to you!