Three years ago today I returned from Europe after having spent the academic semester abroad. I have not been out of the country since. Some of my travels from that semester took me to very impoverished areas, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately since day by day I read through my journal I wrote while in Greece.
Travel is such an eye-opener in that it brings clarity unlike anything else can. Rooted out of our usual comfort zones, we can be hit full force by things like poverty. And it challenges our former preconceptions. This is a good thing.
But having been back in—and only in—America for three straight years now, I find myself becoming lackadaisical again, comfortable as usual. Moving to Nashville was mildly jarring just because it was a change, but I’ve since adapted to the way things are and no longer feel uneasy. I’m not saying being at ease is a bad thing. It’s good to take ownership of your surroundings to some extent. But it’s getting comfortable that bothers me. Especially in a religiously-saturated metroplex like Nashville.
I wonder if it’s hard for some people to find God because they’re simply not going where he is. Often throughout the Gospels, Jesus was with the poor, diseased, and people viewed as morally decadent. So in order to get closer to him, you consequently had to draw nearer to those people, the dregs of society you found detestable. In other words, drawing closer to Jesus meant going to places that made you cringe (I imagine this must have been difficult for the Pharisees). I wonder if it’s so different two thousand years later.
I still think God abides in the uncomfortable realms of this world because the people there need him, and he also knows that’s where we have to find him if we’re going to truly encounter him, if we’re going to legitimately grow. And this is where it gets unique because we all have so many different things that make us uncomfortable. Ergo, maybe God is everywhere after all.
For me, these instances of discomfort come when I travel. Most places—other than major European cities—will be poorer than America, and visiting them is revelatory. The merely mental awareness of how I have more than I need becomes salaciously tangible. I begin to realize how America is a prime breeding ground for the blackest parts of my heart, the sections of it which are selfish. And suddenly, saying, “I have more than I need,” becomes just a euphemism for flat-out stating, “I have too much.”
But before long, living in a place like Nashville can convince you to believe God has blessed us greatly. Perhaps that’s true in part. God does give, but often—maybe more often—it’s also his prerogative to take away, and I think we forget that the longer we stay in one spot. Our definition becomes blurred. What if God’s perpetual “blessing” is really just us fighting tooth and nail to preserve the style of living we have? When we work to remove discomforts, we’ve removed God from the scene. We put a stop to our need to rely on the One unseen. We speak of faith as if we know what it is, but I wonder if we can grasp the deep shades and rich hues of its vibrancy.
(Though it is the religious center of the United States, I hardly ever find God in the American South. At times, it is nearly impossible for me to see him here.)
God wants me to die to myself and die to this world so I can be complete in him; only then will I know what “life to the full” means. But I’m a wealthy American, so I’m scared to do that. And I am not alone because I have only met a scant handful of exorbitantly wealthy Christians who, should Job’s life become theirs tomorrow, would still praise God unceasingly. Such people are rare.
There’s so much clarity in the words of my Greece journal. When our former coddling aura of comfort collapses and drains, God simultaneously gives us a lens to fully see not only the world around us, but also our own hearts. He lends us the opportunity to reexamine who we are, or rather, who we’ve become in our pursuit of posh living and not him as our sole sufficiency. I would love to think I’ll get out of this country for a week or two in the near future, but I don’t see that happening for a long time. Until then, I suppose the task is to learn what “intentionality” looks like in this culture. I’m still trying to figure that one out.