Standing at the cusp of summer and fall, many folk now migrate back toward FCC, D’s many ministries. It reminds me that the spiritual journey is a powerful image for our faith.
And that calls to mind something incisive I read by Daniel Boorstein in his book Hidden History: Explaining our Secret Past. The author explores the real differences across the ages between a traveler and a tourist. A traveler was someone interested in unfamiliar settings, even peculiar encounters, with the purpose of enlarging his or her perspective. “The traveler was active; he ventures strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience,” says Boorstein. The word travel comes from the same word as travail, meaning trouble, work, or event torment. This implies that inherent to being a traveler on a journey is to plunge into distant cultures, grapple with odd customs, and take risks.
Unforeseen experiences don’t ruffle travelers. They’re the norm. Travelers half-expect startling, new ventures (“our roof is falling!”). They willingly try new food put before them without complaining (“what are bread and cup about again? I forget.”) They aim to learn as much of new languages as possible instead of expecting the hosts to speak in words they already know (sin and salvation, faith and hope, redemption and reconciliation). Travelers focus on their transforming experiences rather than accumulating souvenirs.
Tourists differ. “The tourist is passive,” Boorstein writes. “He expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes sight-seeing.” Tourism is, according to Boorstein, mostly a spectator sport which mostly features easy, prefabricated, and contrived encounters.
The easiest way to recognize a tourist is a reluctance to get outside of oneself and to make sacrifices (“somebody should really do something about that…It’s important!”) The word tour, from the Latin word tornus—a tool for making circles—literally means one who is going in circles (“the only way to do that is how we did here it 22 years ago”).
A tourist seeks pleasure and enjoys exotic experience only to burrow every night into a comfy bed (“Take my great idea, but I’m not the right one to lead this project.”) Insulated from the noise, the smells, and the locals, a tourist’s circle is complete once home, tucked safely into familiarity. (“Why isn’t the church doing more to address my needs?”)
I have witnessed the summer church migration out and autumn church migration back into ministry now 38 times in six different churches. Travelers are spiritual pilgrims willing to immerse their lives, get outside of familiar categories, refocus their values, and open themselves to transformation, which is sometimes painful. They want to breathe the language of faith and know the way of Christ, even if travail is part of the bargain.
Tourists arrive passively, happy to drop by when in the mood, wondering why some unseen, unnamed “others” haven’t made things better than they are. They spectate, as though all the church needs is their good will and good ideas, when in actual fact what we need is willing leadership with resourceful imaginations to let God work through us.
Of course, we all must choose our own spiritual path. And all are always welcome. But we must answer whether we seek spiritual greatness or to make pleasant connections.