Are We There Yet — Travel that Transforms

Summing it all up, my friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, and gracious — the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who is the very heart of all things, will work you into the most excellent harmonies. — Philippians 4: 8-9

Here is a story I read recently by Shefa Gold. “Imagine this scene: We see a tribe riding camels across the desert. The sun is burning; the wind is blowing; the wilderness stretches out before them. A boy riding on a camel next to his dad is whining, ‘Are we there yet?’ The father calmly trudges on through the wilderness. In the next frame, the young boy repeats his question, and you get the feeling that he’s been asking this same question all day. Finally, his father turns toward his son and in exasperation shouts, ‘For God’s sake, we’re nomads!’

It’s an almost universal travel experience, isn’t it? Our kids’ incessant impatient plea, “Are we there, yet?” No doubt, we uttered those words ourselves as kids, and perhaps even still as adults, traveling with kids, “How long, O Lord?”

But there is also this idea with travel that is truer to the heart of who we are as people of faith in a world that is present with God as the very heart of reality — we are nomads. We are the presence of God’s love in the world no more than the world in which we travel is already present with the face and presence and love of God.

And recognizing that is when travel can get interesting, and perhaps if we allow it, troubling and transformative!

Ghandi had this wonderful quote that many people, and many Christian people, love to say: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The challenge for us as both people of faith and people of privilege is not to mistake that as saying “Change the world to be the way we want it to be for us.” It’s easier than we often realize for our travel to be both as exploitive of others as it is pleasurable for us.

I remember traveling to Belize for the first time, in 1972, when my father had just moved there and built a tiny 3 room hotel (only one of two on the beautiful, now heavily touristed island of Amberquis Caye). It was still British Honduras, in name, though it had been granted full self-rule in 1964 as the last British colony on the American mainland. Their official country name came in ’73. It was a pristine, unspoiled land of coconut trees, parrots, tropical flowers, the occasional kuwata mundi sighting, and crystal clear blue waters inside one of the largest and most colorful barrier reefs in the world. When Linda and I visited there a couple of years later, we felt like guests in another time, another reality. It was such an honor and privilege to be in conversation with people whose perception of the world was so vastly different from ours. As an evangelical and fundamentalist Christian at the time, I wondered if these islanders “knew Christ.” But I remember asking myself even then, what does that phrase mean in this context. I remembered my Uncle Mac, an avid outdoorsman and amateur zoologist, always taught us “to leave a place better than it was when you arrived.”

We met an islander who had never been off the island in his 75 years. His family had yet to ever venture past the reef or 25 miles across the waters to the mainland. Of course, he knew there was a country and they had BBC radio. But his life centered around family, the local village, and fishing (from a boat he’d made out of a dug out tree). Linda and I experienced a kind of deep hospitality from this man as he shared some of his fish and fruit with us, as he told us tales of hurricane survival and the curious habitat he lived in. I began even then to wonder what it meant to “be Christ” to him and “be the change we wish to see.”

SEEING THE POWER DIFFERENTIAL THAT IS PRESENT AS WE TRAVEL LOCALLY AND ABROAD INVITES US TO EMPOWER RATHER THAN EXPLOIT.

Vacationing, all our traveling, can be spiritually transformative — not just in a way that renews our own spirit with calm and pleasure and joy. But it can be transformative in a way that empowers others, as well as ourselves, to experience a love and healing and empowerment that calls from the very heart of our shared reality on this planet.

We are all nomads, as our planet — the people and animals and vegetation which co-inhabit this increasingly smaller, interconnected reality — reminds us. Maybe a big part of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is more about being guests in the world. Maybe this could be our first step in acknowledging love at the heart of our reality — “I’m just a nomad here. May I be your guest?”

For the next few weeks in eleven:eleven, we’re going to explore stories of travel and vacation, daily encounters of wonder and discovery, and what it might mean to travel from place to place with an awareness of the implied power and privilege differential we carry with us wherever we go.

This Sunday, July 28, 2019, Are We There Yet? Tales of Travel and Transformation. The band will join in with music from David Bowie, The Paper Lions, and Willie Nelson! Hope to see you then!


Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven

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