“Pent-up travel demand”, reads a headline. “Airlines brace for full planes.” Travelers have not been away from home for two years and have money to spend. In Spring/Summer, now with relaxed travel restrictions, many, including me, are eager to go somewhere.
There are many kinds of travel; fast/ slow, entertainment/research, short stay/long stay, backpack/luxury coach. Transportation is costly to the Earth as well as to the credit card. Some families feel they have an entitlement to travel to sunny places away from cold Canadian winters for health reasons. Who in our diocese does not dream of that? Some folks get addicted to the "highs" of travel. Many travel to be with family and friends.
Tourism and travel are not the same. Hearing snippets of familiar passages is not the same as in-depth contemplation of scripture. The difference between tourism and travel is like the difference between fast food and a gourmet meal.
Mass tourism has a negative impact on rich traditions of other cultures making them a “consumable” and therefore banal. What are we really seeking when we leave our homes to be “somewhere else”? Many seek a break from routine, newness, stimulation, a fresh perspective on our “at-home” lives, thrill, romance, deep engagement with other persons and their culture/religion/history. Not to mention creativity and inspiration. What part does desire for distraction play?
In 1992, a group of bible scholars, theologians and church leaders from about twenty-five denominations consulted on the choices of Scripture readings to be included in a new lectionary. In 1994, the REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY was publicly released and is now widely used. The readings were sensitively selected to reflect the historical tradition of the liturgical calendar and of pairing Old Testament texts with those in the New Testament. The texts have subtle resonances with each other; they are not random. Alternate readings were included to ensure that commonality had flexibility. They are never banal.
It is a privilege to travel deeply in this collection. To broaden the impact of the text, good readers will also read around the text, the preceding chapter or additional verses. Good to check out footnotes if your bible includes them. But be aware! Should you really, really explore it, you will experience confusion and discomfort as well as delight and insight. It’s not easy tourism. You will be confounded by texts that are hard to accept. Making it even more difficult is the careless way in which the texts are sometimes proclaimed in the Sunday service; poetry mangled, names mispronounced, too fast, too soft or inarticulate, not to mention technical audio hitches. This is not gossip about my own parish where there are some very good lectionary proclaimers: but I have observed this sloppiness in many a diocesan parish. The subtle thematic connections between the readings may not be referred to by either the reader or the homilist.
As I draft this piece for Diocese of New Westminster communications, I am considering the OT reading for next Sunday, Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18. Why are verses 13 -16 missing? Read them anyway. There you will find a troubling promise that has never been fulfilled and is highly contentious if not repugnant. Without historical/cultural context, how could any listener make sense out this. We don’t know how to deal with the hyperbolic speech habit of the ancient world. It may just be a way of expressing the largesse of Abram’s god but, but … And what of the weirdness of the ancient ritual of ratifying a covenant; cutting up birds and walking through them?? And we wonder why our Sunday service does not attract seekers.
Give up on it? When we travel deeply far away, we put up with bad food, risky activities (amateur spelunking, paragliding, zip lining anyone?), getting lost, fleeced, or bitten all in the spirit of adventure. You do research before you travel, study the phrase book, read up on the history, examine the maps, why wouldn’t we do the same when we travel in the lectionary?
When you return from travels abroad, you bring back mementos (probably over-priced, soon charmless and headed for a thrift store). Who needs five selfies of self on Eiffel Tower? Who needs the Eiffel Tower?
When you travel deeply into scripture, the lectionary is a map and a calendar guiding you to fresh adventures both daily and Sundays. It’s free and you don’t need sunscreen or bug spray. Take along the stout walking stick of a good bible commentary and you won’t stumble. Occasionally you will be a little lost; trust the way.
Photo: iStock 972349886
Credit: Sergio Yoneda