Traveling doesn’t change you. I propose that the cliché – “you’ll never be the same after traveling” – is only partly true. Partly true because sure, traveling helps you realize that there’s more to the world than the home/culture you inhabit. But only partly true, because traveling doesn’t make you a different person than you already are.
If you’re inclined toward moodiness and introspection, being on the other side of the world won’t suddenly cure you. If you like to be in control, the unpredictability of travel will only serve to irritate you more.
Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling, and I’m the first to encourage others to do more of it. But traveling sometimes seems only to exacerbate one’s existing sin patterns. Envy, discontent, lack of self-control, selfishness – they’re all there. “Location, location, location,” doesn’t apply to us, as if the human heart was a piece of real estate.
But, on the other hand, I wonder if the routine of work/home/church life doesn’t change us more than we realize. Take a look around you. Work: your boss continues to micromanage your daily tasks. Family: your brother won’t clean up after himself. Church: yet again, she says the wrong thing. She’s only trying to help, but instead, she just makes you feel worse. They’re a whole bunch of messed up, broken sinners who require more grace than we have to give, and who give us more grace than we deserve.
Handsome strangers met at the sidewalk cafe don’t require much patience and longsuffering, especially if you’ll never see them again. It’s the people you bump up against continually, daily, weekly, who require something more from you. And in the process, perhaps it is we who are the most changed. Wives, husbands, children, church family, coworkers: vessels of ordinary grace.
In my travels I visited the House of Terror in Budapest, Hungary. It once consecutively housed two deadly regimes: the Nazis and the Soviets. Each of these parties used this house as a torture chamber and killed many Hungarians inside of its walls. Walking through, hearing the interviews, reading the stories, looking into the jail cells, it’s so easy to feel the horror well up inside. How on earth could human beings do such things to others?
In my head I quickly contrast my easygoing, polite Canadian civilization with the barbarism displayed by Nazi Germany and the Communists. “We’re better than they were, and we’d never do such a thing.” It’s an easy step to pride and superiority. And for most of us, that’s where we’d stop. But fortunately for us, the gospel doesn’t leave us wallowing there. Jesus comes in and erases our neatly-constructed racial dividing lines.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Suddenly, the dividing lines appear in completely different places. We cannot stand across from them and think, “I would never do that.” Jesus looks straight at (into) you and says, “You already have.” In the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn from The Gulag Archipelago, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts.” The horror is no longer at some culture “out there,” but rather at the capacity for anger and hatred in my own heart. In your own heart.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, I am not saying that this realization means we cannot stand up for justice and the oppressed. But it should keep us from overly simplifying the problem of evil. It’s only when we understand what we ourselves are capable of that we can truly stand for justice. The battle is fought in every human heart, and so pride and superiority must be destroyed, even as we continue to promote life and condemn injustice.
While walking through the Museum of Fine Art in Budapest, I happened upon a painting of three young women bathing. They were naked. I sat and looked at them for a while.
Advertising and pornography have done much to destroy and dehumanize women. It’s rare to meet a young woman who’s happy with her body. Of course, if we stop to think about it for any length of time, we should know that we are made in God’s image, and that He took on flesh and glorified it, thereby demonstrating the goodness of our humanness, of our flesh, of our bodies.
But the message we receive over and over is one of hatred. If the female body is so imperfect, and requires innumerable (photoshop) touch-ups, then obviously we should hate our bodies. The world seems to. The insidious message is subtle, unless you’re looking for it. But a quick glance through the women’s fashion page on Pinterest will tell all: nobody I know looks like that.
But what would it look like if we viewed our bodiliness with affection? I suspect it might look something like those nudes I saw at the MFA. I want to recommend that we all spend some time looking at Rembrandt nudes, but perhaps that’s not the solution. Somehow, the gospel message of grace and beauty in every body must be more ubiquitous than the world’s message of hate and disgust. But how?