“The pandemic has been (largely) left behind and finally we’re free! Travel figures are back surging again as travel-hungry individuals, families and groups of friends seek to make up for lost time. Wanted to go somewhere for that big birthday? 2022 is your year to catch-up! Missed a honeymoon? 2022! Simply want to see family and friends again after years? Now’s your chance!
Partly due to the surge, and partly to make up for lost sales, travel in 2022 may not be the cheapest it’s ever been (car hire and competition around accommodation especially), but there’s plenty of bargains out there still, depending on what kind of travel you’re interested in and whether you’re flexible.
Here’s some thoughts I shared on a friend’s blog recently. Just click on the image or link below for more…and while you’re there, why not order (the blogger) Seth’s upcoming book “Dream Small”. I’m excited to see another new author here in Ireland.
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!
I’ve been on a search for a while now for an Islamic theology of travel. I’ve written before that it doesn’t surprise me that such a thing isn’t prominent in Islamic writings that I’ve come across. But I’m sure there are individuals and movements who are bucking that trend these days and holding the exploration of this world (for pleasure) in tension with the “other-worldly” existence of many of such theologies. And so I’ve never been happy to rest with such (incomplete) short thoughts from my own ponderings.
In Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1368) we have a Muslim traveller who is declared to have travelled around 117,000 kilometres – far above the figures of other famous travellers like Marco Polo or Zheng. Here, I got my hopes up and quickly started investigating whether this would give me my much-awaited Islamic theology of travel. But like many accounts of history, they don’t always give you what you want them to! Firstly, there are questions about some of his adventures and whether they happened. And secondly, other say his accounts seem devoid of much mention of why he was travelling, apart from the mention of pilgrimage to Mecca a few times.
Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s documentary (on BBC) and book certainly make easier reading that Ibn’s own original accounts, but also provide a rather selective Western take on his life.
And so I keep my eyes open and continue onwards in my journey towards an Islamic theology of travel. I’ll be reading Ibn Battuta myself over the next few months and may come back to him if it yields anything of interest. In the meantime, do send on any suggestions!
Once you’ve been blogging for years, the older posts tend to get lost into the back end of the blogosphere never to surface again. So here’s a pinned mini-library for those of you here for the first time, or those wondering where to begin. Doubtless it’ll be an incomplete list, but I hope it may highlight the main thrust of content on here and save you hours of scrolling past irrelevant content.
Firstly, my main purpose in writing was to help myself explore the intersection of faith and travel. To that end I put a short (Christian) theology of travel together here, before I wrote the book. It itself is a mini-library, organised according to Biblical theology and Systematic theology, though not updated since well before I wrote Travel. You can find it here. Of course some of the most popular material I have written is not on this site either – things like this where I was interviewed by Andrew Wilson for Christianity Today.
Secondly, I have been told that some other series I have written would be useful to have linked here prominently. Often nonsense gets the most internet hits (sadly blog posts with words like “sex” in or blog posts that just tell people what to do on controversial topics [people seem to secretly love being told what to do]), but these are significant not for the number of blog hits they get but for the reasons stated.
A series on Unengaged People Groups (UPG): if you’ve never heard of a UPG, aren’t regularly praying for UPGs and wonder why the western church doesn’t speak much about them, despite God’s heart for them, then you may like this series. It takes work done by others and applies it locally, but it may well still apply to some of your setting too.
A stolen series on unity in diversity: courtesy of Dave Bish (now the pastor of the church I went to during university days), there’s some thoughts on Christian unity. His models have caused many a conversation with pastors when I’ve been on the road, and have been very helpful in work. Other posts on unity also can be found here and here.
A series on how western mission agencies need to change: Like everything I write, it generally stems from work that others have done. This time taking from my experiences and from Eddie Arthur (@kouya) and applying it to the Irish setting. This series has helped round-table discussions amongst agencies on the island.
Thirdly, you may not like me hand-picking what I think you should read, and would prefer to walk into the blogosphere and climb a ladder to the fifteenth shelf and pick a blogpost that better interests you. To do this, most will know how WordPress blogs work:
There is a simple search function on the right-hand-side.
I have an unusual love of books. You can find all my book reviews and blog posts that resemble book reviews over under the topic heading “book reviews” on the right-hand-side.
All my posts about ‘faith & travel’ I tend to categorise under the two tags “theology” and “travel” – you can bring them all up using the right-hand pane. There are far more than just the ones in the section mentioned above.
Guest posts are also available through that “tag” on the right-hand-side. You’ll find more varied opinion in there than simply that of a young Irish lad.
Finally, there are some blog posts on here that fall into categories far away from anything about faith and travel but still seem popular. Here are a few of them:
The Irish 4 Peak Challenge: could you climb the highest mountain in all 4 Irish provinces in 24 hours? Not many have done this challenge, but having completed it in 2019 I’m willing to help any others who want to give it a go.
Tales from round the world: some of my blog posts I write simply for the joy of writing and telling (true) stories about things that have happened to me. You’ll see a few samples here:
No-one ever admits they’re addicted to things. Just the way that no-one ever publicly admits to being lonely. Socially we don’t do that. I remember once confessing the fact that my heart was sometimes a little racist in some of my reactions in life. There was uproar at such a thought! There appear to be some things we are not allowed to admit. The ultimate sins of the age.
And then there are the things everyone is addicted to, so we don’t even call it addiction. Checking our phone notifications or social media (probably many times per hour for those with iPhones/androids). Sadly for our culture, even watching porn probably comes into this category – many we know in our society would struggle to stop.
But how can we tell if we’re addicted to travel? How do we know if it has gripped our hearts more than Jesus? I was caused to think through this questions by a recent article I read online:
People not only paying for flights that don’t go anywhere (return to the same destination as they leave), but paying to eat aeroplane food, on a stationary aeroplane! Now given the fact that most aeroplane food is atrocious, and some might want to pay to not receive it, this bizarre phenomenon must be explained by other reasons. Why would people pay sums of money to eat on a stationary plane?
Well obviously because they miss that aeroplane experience. They are so used to flying, or dreaming of what the conitation of flying evokes in their memories and desires, that being back within the shell of a plane, even if it doesn’t go anywhere, is worth the cost of the food alone. No one pays large sums for plane food by choice. People pay for what their hearts crave for – the feeling of freedom that travel gives – the longing for the ‘normal’ to return.
Now admittedly, in these weird times, one could pay for the novelty of such things, even when one has no attachment to travel at all, but it is unlikely. So is anyone who steps on that plane addicted to travel?
Our trouble with this is that we can justify away anything. Our hearts are fantastic at the “justification game” – making up excuses to justify our behaviour and claim that it is acceptable, even moral. And on the other hand, we also love to point at other people and declare them to be at fault (in this case, addicted to travel) based on our preconceived and cultural notions of what is healthy and what is not.
So I’d want to be careful in my broad brush-stroking everyone who does a certain thing, with an assumed heart motive. But at the same time it got me thinking. What would signify that my heart was addicted to travel?
when I spend more money on pleasure travel than I give to world mission in a year?
when I go into debt or borrow to finance my travels?
when I can’t give to some sustainable project in a place I’m visiting because I’ve budgeted every last bit of money to suit my travels/needs?
when my bucket list dominates how I spend my annual leave or my free time?
when my friends say they don’t see me much because I’m away travelling all the time?
when I turn down helping on a Saturday night rota or Sunday in church because I am hoping to be away weekends?
when my social media feed causes me to long for travel more than praise the God who made travel?
when I’m more aware of the travel destinations or tourist attractions in a country than I am aware of the state of God’s people (the Church) in that country, or the great needs of the country?
when I seek to justify my travels by using mission, visiting people or short-term volunteer projects as an excuse?
when I don’t act to counter the ethical affects that my travels have on the environment and on the most impoverished in the countries I visit?
when I don’t have the energy or heart to regularly serve a local community of believers in some ways each week? (whether formally or informally)
when I don’t have the energy or heart to regularly reach out to local unbelieving community each week?
when I think of this period as the ‘waiting time’ before real life returns?
when I relish saving lots of money over this period (from not eating out, not travelling, not spending much) because it means I can travel far more for my own pleasure in future?
when I long for travel to return more than I long for Jesus’ return?
when I start paying for meals on stationary planes?!
Now don’t get me wrong. This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it a perfect list. You may object to some of my questions and may do so rightly (though I’d be interested to hear from you which ones). You may also think I haven’t touched on some areas which we could ask questions about (please do send your heart-revealing questions in!). But even for those who have started working in the travel industry (as travel bloggers or otherwise), I hope these questions are still fair ones to ask.
This also is not primarily meant to be a list to spiritually beat you up, make you feel bad about your faith and demand you do more good stuff to make up for it. But if you feel really bad, or even feel a bit angry at me writing such a list, I might suggest that perhaps it has touched a sore point in our hearts where we realise we may fall short on an awful lot of these suggested things! We don’t need to be addicted to travel, for us to feel the increasing tug of it on our hearts day by day. Could this be a time to take stock and re-orientate our hearts towards the God who made travel?
The good news, is that the response is better than simply taking a pledge to abstinence. You are not required to sign up to a Travel-holics Anonymous class. You don’t have to bathe in shame for the foreseeable future either.
“If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
(1 John 1:9)
In coming to Jesus as creator of travel and asking him to help us glimpse the his goodness and the One who is transforming it all under His good rule and reign towards a new heavens and earth one day, our hearts can be captured by infinitely better dreams than anything travel could give us.
Now to help us see this, and to help us see Jesus’ good news for our lives as “an easy yoke” and “a light burden”, you may still find it easier to grab a close friend in church and chat through your struggles or questions with them, and let them help you establish perspectives and patterns in your life which help re-orientate your heart to an infinitely bigger and better gospel than the gospel of travel (alone) can ever provide.
And why not do it now, while we have time to think during Covid and when we realise how unsatisfying living for travel is, during this season?
It’s why we need to talk about travel, at the time it seems most silly to talk about travel – when no travel can happen.
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?
This post comes as the sixth in our Microadventure series found here. Those who have been with us on all our adventures so far, will realise that we’re looking to go away on both physical microadventures, but also mental and perhaps even spiritual ones too. Partly because adventure is not just a physical hobby, but something which embraces our whole humanity – some of the most intense experiences we have are not purely physical activities. And partly because I hope these can be for everyone, regardless of age, ability, culture, or whether you’re stuck indoors during isolation or not! I hope today’s #microadventure may help explain more.
I still remember the day our neighbour sprinted out of the house next door to me, yelling:
“STOP! STOP! STOP!”
This was not characteristic of the old man, who normally spoke beneath his breath, and I don’t think I’d ever seen run in my entire time of living there.
It wasn’t as if I was doing anything mad! Just getting into my car, like I did every other day of the year, and in fact, like I’d done only an hour before. What was his problem?!
“Don’t start the engine!” he cried, arriving beside my open door, and finding me one leg in, one leg out of the driver’s seat. He took an extra two steps over to the bonnet of the car and tapped it twice with the palm of his hand crying as he did so.
I waited a few seconds to see what this dark magic was to produce.
“That’s fine now” he said, walking back to the open door he had sprinted out from, and disappearing without explanation.
It was only later that I found out from him over a cup of tea, that his last cat has sadly died, trapped while enjoying the warmth of a previously used car engine, when it had been started again, and had driven off with the startled cat still in the bonnet. Soon, frightened cat became fried cat.
And so I can imagine the phrase “curiosity killed the cat” might have some merit. Cats do sometimes have an intrigue that leads them into interesting situations. The fact that no-one seems to know where the phrase came from, and that it seems to actually have been something more like “worry killed the cat” to start with, may send us off in a different direction.
Why on earth are we talking about cats and curiosity?
Why on earth are we talking about cats, curiosity and a random incident that wasn’t an incident at all? Well partly because seven cats have just walked past my window today – some several times. But moreso because of one thing I tell every microadventurer (and adventurer) to pack! When interviewed on the Christian Travelers’ Network, I was asked:
“What is the one thing that you always pack when you travel?”
To which I replied:
“Curiosity. And my old tennis ball – it’s travelled more miles than I ever have!”
Curiosity about the world, and about life is a spring-board to many things. It is infinite in its measure – one can be curious about anything in life. It means one can be alone, isolated in a room for months, but perhaps never get bored. It frees one from the virus of never being content with smaller things, by giving us a curiosity about lots of things in life – yet not just the major thrills of travelling far-flung destinations for the perfect ‘Insta pic’.
Yes, curiosity can still be a killer (for our cats, or even for us – if we invest it too heavily in the wrong places or things), but for me, it’s an essential ingredient to adventure, and leaves me happy with #microadventures, not feeling I’ve been robbed with the current circumstances, nor leaving me lacking desire to get out again to see the world.
When curiosity can’t be found
Sadly some days, I enter it rushed, consumed by the tasks I think I need to do, driving home from work listening to the same 10 latest pop songs played over and over again on the radio, and finding myself scrolling the evening away [on my phone], never investing my curiosity in anything deeply, and dulling my senses with a pint (or two), a Netflix episode (or four) or suitable other releases from the daily grind.
Sometimes curiosity is hard to find. All too evasive in a busy world, which rushes by seeking such purpose, yet never travelling slow enough to see it in any of the places it’s found, before distraction carries us off again.
For my secular friends, some said to me their curiosity is motivated by their sense of awe at the world – how small they are in the world, and how much there is to marvel at, if we should stop and get a big picture. Perspective is everything. And getting distracted by religious narratives, for many of them, only takes away from the time we could be curious about more things, and helping others. In fact some religious narratives, they’d claim, take away from this awe-inspiring big picture of our small-ness within the universe, instead having us front and centre of the narrative.
For some of my Muslim friends, their passion to achieve eternal reward, is enough to make them keen to do well on this earth and for our humanity, regardless of what subject or field that may be in – thus generating curiosity about a wide variety of things. The Prophet (PBUH), Qu’ran and Hadiths helpfully sharpen their curiosity away from just general nice things, to what really matters in life – spiritual things, helping the least in society, and obedience to the way of Allah.
Where I find curiosity
For me, it’s been gradually found by meeting and experiencing the One who claims to have made all things. Because He has made such a diverse and wonderful world, and calls us to enjoy it, look after it and to develop it, I find myself gradually growing my interest outside of the small bubble that I grew up in. I find He gives me strength within to empower curiosity that serves.
Where I used to only care about my own hobbies, I find myself taking interest in other peoples’ hobbies. My poor mother, who had to endure endless chat about football, if she ever took me on a walk when I was younger! Now put me in a room with someone doing a PhD in molecular biology, a fan of Love Island (does that still exist on TV?) or other niche things, and I would at least attempt to delve into questions and interest, as much as my limited abilities allowed me to.
Where I used to only care about places of the world I had been to, or wanted to go to, now I find myself curious about all sorts of places – out of fascination for the world, though also because of the worldwide Church.
Where I would have otherwise given up on a friendship or getting to know someone, because of their wildly different opinions, lifestyle or otherwise, now I find I try to have a patience to shape my whole life deliberately alongside diverse others who are not like me, to walk a mile in their shoes (where appropriate) and to ask good questions.
A shared experience?
Quite a few of these things just grow in every human to some extent as we grow older. Yet some curiosity dies, as we grow older and reach a point we think we know everything, or certainly everything we desire to know at that moment (even if we would never say this). So much will need to be intentionally developed.
And so feel free to leave a comment below:
How does your worldview allow for curiosity?
And how does what you believe motivate you to act on this curiosity?
How does your worldview allow for curiosity? And how does what you believe motivate you to act on this curiosity?
And if you’re not sure how what you think and believe affects how you act, why not start by reading something which helps you understand your own worldview more? I recommend a book used at the start of some university courses on philosophy, but it’s not too deep – don’t worry!
[It’s written by a professor who happens to be a Christian (and who is very open about that in the introduction), but I’ve never met anyone who thought that it is an unfair account of other worldviews – he is generous and doesn’t “straw-man” other beliefs. It can be found on the link below, or you can ask me to post a second hand copy to you, if you’re quick.]
I hope as we #microadventure onwards together that curiosity will overflow from our pockets and our hearts. But delightfully, that despite its abundance, it won’t take up any luggage allowance at all for us, but will make for epic adventures ahead!
Emily Thomas (Assoc Prof. in Philosophy at Durham) puts together a bite-size look at travel, taking us through various fun things about the history and philosophy of travel, in order for us to change how we think about it. Plenty in here to agree about, laugh about, disagree about and wrestle with, in short chapters. You’ll need to buy your own ebook (£9.98 on Kindle).
Part of the 9Marks series – short, practical chapters. There’s things radically alter our lives and church life, questions that’ll challenge things you believe, heart-warming thoughts that’ll help you treasure God, things to disagree with, and much more. Has the church ended up following tradition/pragmatics rather than the Bible on some things? Have we robbed ourselves – and more importantly, hundreds of thousands of unreached peoples – of eternal enjoyment of God, by not thinking through this? The author would suggest so.
If you’re in the UK/Ireland, I can send you 1 of 12 copies that I have, for £4/€5 (including postage). (Or buy an ebook yourself for £9.50)
We’ll meet on Zoom each week (likely at a time that suits the Irish timezone) – I have Zoom (paid), so you’ve no need to signup or pay.
There’ll be a social meet-up this coming week, to meet each other, chat and see what speed we want to go at.
Drop me a line on the “contact us” page if you don’t already have my contact details and want to take part.
Finally, if you’re a friend/mutual acquaintance and you’re struggling for money at this time of crisis, but still want to take part, just say (no shame!) and I can put some of my travel/petrol money (unused this month) towards a copy for you.
Everywhere I go in the world, I meet western travellers who will be living under certain travel assumptions. I am sure there are many assumptions we share, but here are two that immediately come to mind. Firstly, many assume we are all the same, right across the world. Secondly, many assume that education would solve most of the world’s problems.
As travel plans are put on hold in many parts of the world, and the travel industry watches with bated breath to see how long this will last for, it soon becomes apparent which of these is true, and to what extent.
Are we the same, right across the world?
In many ways, yes. The corona virus reminds us that we’re all humans – only here for a short time on earth. It doesn’t really matter where in the world we are, we can never transcend this, and while fitter humans battle on with no health worries, many of those in the travel industry are still paralysed by economic worry, or will soon be. Flybe have already gone bust, and airlines, travel companies and those in the tourism industry will soon find it hard to make ends meet, should this continue.
Will education solve our problems here?
If we all acted perfectly – would Coronavirus be contained and economies still continue? I’m not sure it would. Perhaps if we all hand-washed perfectly and stayed at home for weeks, the virus may stop. But then so might many businesses – permanently. If we continued on normal lives with no fear at all (whilst still handwashing etc), I’m sure the opposite may happen, and the virus would spread rapidly, as many may carry it without realising. And if we think there is a perfect combination of this, and that many of our governments are simply getting it wrong, I might suggest that it shows our mistrust in depending on our best minds to be trained to solve problems. As humans, we are not that perfectly rational. Not able to predict the future. Education may help, but its not our saviour for the travel industry or for any other.
So what can we do?
I was out working at a large sporting gathering yesterday, where we were forbidden to shake hands with the players and officials. What humoured us as officials, was that the victorious players were hugging, kissing, throwing themselves into the crowd, and piling on top of each other in a heap! An understandable reaction when you’ve won a cup! And not one which a handshake would have made much of a difference too.
Accept our humanity
Perhaps in coming to terms with our humanity, we’ll not try and be the saviours with all the answers. Watching another YouTube video or news bulletin will most likely not change anything. And in accepting our humanity, we won’t expect our governments to get it perfect – it’s a complex thing to understand, and hard thing to legislate. And we’ll admit that even the best business leader or fittest person on earth, will still be limited by our humanity. You can think you’ve done everything right, and yet still your business may go under, or your health may be taken from you (perhaps not by this virus, but on any given day, by anything). Yet this is one of the hardest things as a human who loves to push boundaries and develop myself, that I struggle to accept. It is so obvious yet I rail against it every day I wake up. Being diagnosed with a long-term illness helped me come to terms with this a bit, or at least revealed how much I crave independence as a world traveller!
Confess our need of each other
In fear and panic, it’s fascinating that one of the first things humans seem to do, is to look after themselves. Northern Ireland has gone relatively untouched so far by the virus, yet when I went to the shops yesterday at 10am, all toilet rolls (re-stocked at 7.30am) were nearly gone, and other food stuffs were dwindling. Instead of panicking, I wonder how many will look around to serve the needs of others today. To look to the needs of an elderly neighbour who is more at risk if they went out. To think of those in worse-affected areas and to support them.
Ultimately these two previous things will start to happen more and more as we look upwards to the One who is in control. The One who gave us our humanity. The One who made travel. The One who made us to be in relationship with each other, but also with Him. For those atheist travellers amongst us, perhaps your worldview may give you the first point (we’re all the same), but by what grounds ought it motivate you to care for the least in society? (Please note what I’m not saying – many of you will be the most marvelously caring in society, more than religious people.)
I don’t say this glibly, as it’s not easy to do or to understand God’s way of working in this world. I have a wedding planned for July which I can’t get insurance for with this crisis – will it go ahead? Will family be able to fly in? I have friends who own travel firms who’ll be ruined by everyone pulling out from their holiday plans. I myself wonder about the risk of booking a honeymoon, or anything in the next six months. I have family who also (like me) are perhaps more vulnerable health-wise than many others in society. And I have friends, in some of the worst affected areas of the world.
But evidence in history points me to One who’s dealt with far more turmoil across the nations than this. One who uses even the evil in this world, to bring about His purposes. One who stepped in to save us, when our own education, society and fitness could not suffice. It is His good care of all who He has made, which I turn to look towards at times like these.
So, as we wake up each morning, may we look upwards, remember others worse off, and confess our humanity. And perhaps if we are still craving adventure and think it wise, you can consider a micro-adventure and discover the rich diversity of life right on your doorstep – wherever you live! In the meantime on this blog, we’ll be trying to support some businesses who specialise in the faith and travel market, in the days ahead.
It was the “Introduction to Mission” module at a local Bible College, and I was lecturing there for the first time. A bit out of my depth, in a room full of people who had far more experience of mission than I did, I sometimes (rightly or wrongly) resorted to my favourite topics, tangents or strong points, to fall back on familiar territory.
Nearing the end of day 2, I went off briefly on one of those excursions into a short bit about “Unreached People Groups” as I’ve written about here before. As I turned back round to the class, I noticed a blank face or two and a voice spoke up:
“But where is that in the Bible, Sir?”
And it was at this point, I admitted that indeed the exact definition and outworkings of Unreached People Groups, as defined by the Joshua Project, International Mission Board (of the Southern Baptists) or other major organisations, are not in the Bible. That’s why this was only a passing mention in a far fuller Biblical course. Something I hold lightly to, though perhaps for the number of times I mention it, you wouldn’t think so!
Yes, we’d seen aplenty that God’s heart was for all nations, right from Genesis onwards. Even as we read prophecies about the coming of the Lord Jesus, around Christmas, many of them have this “all nations” scope.
“His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth”
Micah 5:4 (speaking of what the eternal God would do, being born in “little” Bethlehem)
“My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people – a light for revelation to the Gentiles…”
Luke 2:30-32 (Simeon realises the significance of this birth is far more than just for his own people)
And we could go on…(instead, why not get your hands on Chris Wright’s “Mission and the People of God” or Chester’s “Mission Matters”?)
But despite these constant mentions of the nations or all peoples, it still doesn’t help us define what that looks like. And that’s where this article on The Gospel Coalition (and this one too) strikes back at current tendencies in missiology.
And what the authors mention is certainly true. Three things struck me from 10 years taking trips to more unreached, unengaged parts of the world:
The “Unengaged” world (as defined here) has comparatively few resources (it used to be around 1% of all evangelical mission giving), and few seem to care enough to shape their church mission policies and individual lives, to sacrificially prioritise these peoples. There are great needs that brought about the wave of thinking about “unreached people groups”, that still exist. Let’s not shy away from this area, thinking it is the “sexy” topic of the time.
We cannot zap Jesus back by completing the great commission, as soon as the last tribe hears the last word of our good news presentation in their language. Mission is about far more than gospel presentations, Discipleship (Seeker) Bible Studies or responses. The great commission speaks of teaching people to obey all that Christ has commanded, and the New Testament develops the idea of God’s people – now, the Church.
If we do not take a stronger emphasis on what the Bible emphasizes in discipleship (that discipleship is messy and growing Godly character is never quick), in local church (that a meeting of 3 people looking at the scriptures is not necessarily a church), in evangelism (that pragmatics of hunting “people of peace” and other such strategies cannot define us), then we will not have healthy churches that will survive long-term. We may have exciting stories of dozens of “church” plants. But we may simply be inoculating the culture against Christianity (by making them think they’re Christian), rather than seeing genuine conversion.
So let’s not take our foot off the gas/pedal. There are great needs. But may we steep ourselves first and foremost in the scriptures, to know what to grasp as first importance, and what human principles may be useful but not essential. May we tie our seminaries to our mission-fields and see that it is Godly, equipped people we are sending to plant sustainable, indigenous churches.