December 2010

The journey ahead

by Steve Brock on December 31, 2010

The end of the year evokes reflection much like the smell of sautéing onions induces hunger.

The end of the year is a good time to look back and also look forward to the coming year. But how you do that makes all the difference...

The turning of the calendar from one year to the next is a marker we’ve been conditioned to note, sometimes with joy, sometimes with melancholy. But as we saw in the last entry, as we look forward to the next year, we have, in reality, no way of knowing how it will turn out.

That can be frightening to some of us. But I’ve learned something from traveling to different parts of the world that may be of use in this regard.

In Africa, Latin America and Asia, I have noted something different about the way people pray. I’m not referring to the difference between how a Hindu prays versus a Muslim, for example. You’d expect substantial differences there. In fact, what has surprised me more are the similarities in prayer between people of different religions.

The difference I mean is between the way Christians here in the US pray versus Christians from other parts of the world, particularly in less developed countries (a phrase I find particularly ironic in this context).

Here, if we’re confronted with some challenge or difficult circumstance, our prayers tend to be something like, “Oh Lord, please remove this burden from my life.” In places where people have far less material possessions than we do, their prayer is different. They are likely to pray, “Lord, give me the strength to bear this burden.”

Same God. Same core beliefs. Same challenges in many respects. But a vastly different perspective. Here, we see suffering and anything that disrupts our comfort as something to avoid or have removed from us faster than that pair of embroidered socks we received from Aunt Mildred for Christmas. There, they maintain the perspective that suffering is part of life, often – though it doesn’t seem so at the time – a very beneficial part because of what it does within us and the subsequent joy that comes afterwards.

We miss out on so much life when we seek to avoid our challenges and we definitely spend way too much emotional energy in that pursuit.

So today, as I look forward to the coming year, I will try and apply what I have learned from traveling and from praying with my brothers and sisters in Christ from other parts of the world. I will try to pray as they do and to embrace all that comes my way. That’s easier to do on a trip when so called “real life” seems many miles away. But in this coming year, I want to treat my daily routine life more like I do a trip and incorporate more of that “real life” into my trips.

And who knows? Maybe this year both my trips and my prayer life will be the richer for the effort.

Happy New Year.

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You have no idea

by Steve Brock on December 28, 2010

Just as you never know what lies behind some doors, you have no idea what is to come on a trip...or in life.

One more thought relating to Christmas and travel

This last Sunday in church, the pastor, in recounting the Christmas story, made this comment in passing:

“Mary and Joseph experienced a great wonder with the birth of Jesus. But they had no idea what was to come.”

It struck me that such is our experience in travel…and in life.

Sometimes, you have amazing moments on a trip that you think you’ll treasure forever. However, you’re not home more than a few weeks (or even days) before they’ve already faded faster than a reality TV star from the public’s awareness.

Other times, everything goes wrong on a trip – lost luggage, missed connections, bad food, rotten weather, bacteria hitching a ride in your belly or all of the above. At the time, your trip seems like a catastrophe. But if you’re like me, you look back and realize that often the most memorable – and meaningful – trips are the ones where something went wrong.

Both the good times and the bad ones are relative and you have no idea what they’ll eventually mean to you because, like Mary at the time of Jesus’ birth, you can’t know what is to come. You get wonder and sorrow all mixed together and only time will show you how it all fits and plays out.

For example, Luke 2:19 tells us that after the amazement and awe of the shepherds, Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  That’s the good wonder. But jump down several verses and we read in Luke 2:35b Simeon telling her, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Not so good.

Fast forward even further, say three decades or so, and you see Mary watching her son die on a cross. She has no idea how anything good can come from this. Three days after that, however, as she stands in a garden near an empty tomb, the world looks – and is – utterly different.

I have to make great efforts to remember this both during hard times and also during the heady anticipation phase of a trip. Too often, right before I leave, I find myself thinking about what will happen or how the trip will turn out. But I can never really know that, which, ironically is one of the reasons many of us like to travel.

It’s a funny thing: We travel for the novelty and surprise and yet in our daily lives, we tend to want it all figured out. What travel reveals is that if we rest in the present and enjoy it rather than worrying about the future, both turn out better.

Even during our worst travel or life experiences we can’t know how it will all turn out or how God will use them. But we can trust that at some point, no matter how bad – or even how wondrous – things may seem right now on this trip or in this life, God will work them together for our good.

How good?

You have no idea.

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The traveling God

by Steve Brock on December 24, 2010

The three Wise Men traveled far to see Jesus. But it was Jesus who made the longest journey...

Last time, I noted my quest to rediscover the meaning of Christmas. I actually believe that is a lifelong journey. But here is something I realized this week.

Throughout the bible we see that God is a traveling God. The quintessential example of this is his appearance as the Divine Traveling Companion manifested as the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night with the Israelites. God was with Abraham on his trek, with David when he fled Saul and with the Israelites to and from Babylon.

God gets around.

With the Exodus story, our traveling God shows up in a big way. Then, when we get to the New Testament, he shows up in a very small way. As a baby.

A baby.

The omnipotent Creator of the universe comes to us as a helpless infant. The package is always what’s blown me away about the Incarnation, but as I try to regain a fresh perspective this week on Christmas, I’m struck by the delivery system. Not the detailed part of being born in a stable and all that, but the fact that he came to us.

In every other religion, we have to go to the god or gods, supplicating them, seeking their favor, doing things on our part that will earn us our entry ticket into a better life the next round. But with the Incarnation, God came to us. He traveled to us.

Travel is inherently incarnational. We take our full selves into another place. With the Incarnation, God took his fullness and somehow confined it into flesh and blood just like us. We often travel for our own sakes, but he traveled to this planet for ours. And therein lies the amazing thing to me about the Incarnation.

I’ve never thought about Jesus’ birth relating to the parable of the prodigal son until now, but there’s an interesting parallel. In the parable (Luke 15:11-32) the father sees the returning younger son from a distance and comes running to him. In the same way, with the Incarnation, God comes to us.  He is Emmanuel, God with us. He travels with us. No matter where we go. But it all starts with the fact that he took the initiative to travel here first.

What we celebrate with Christmas is, in a small way, the fact that we are not alone in our travels.  Even more marvelous is that through the Incarnation, we’re invited into a personal, intimate journey with the traveling God who, like Aslan in the Narnia books, is still “on the move.”

And it is always in a direction toward us.

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The longest journey on earth

by Steve Brock December 21, 2010

The longest journey on earth is often the twelve inches from our heads to our hearts, particularly with overly familiar subjects like Christmas. To find the real meaning of Christmas thus requires a journey of a different kind…

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Amateur Hour

by Steve Brock December 17, 2010

When you fly a lot it is easy to lose patience with those who don’t, particularly during busy holiday seasons. That is, until you realize that you share much more with these people than just the overhead baggage space…

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When our categories fail us

by Steve Brock December 14, 2010

We often form categories for what is meaningful travel and what isn’t. However, sometimes those categories don’t work because some of the most meaningful travel experiences on our trips don’t necessarily occur on the trips themselves.

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Travel and identity

by Steve Brock December 9, 2010

A brief Guys Day trip to an old train museum reveals that the wonder of intergenerational travel may be as much about the questions it raises – such as that of identity – as it is about finding answers.

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