Sunday, July 1, 2012

Families without roots

A while back I stumbled on a the adventures of a traveling family, and by traveling I mean a little more than two weeks in July. This is a family that lives year round on the road traveling all across Asia and who knows where. I have to admit, after years spent hitting the road, their lifestyle seemed attractive if a little impractical, but after some more consideration I've concluded that for Christians such a lifestyle is probably better avoided. While I don't believe my objections carry significant moral weight, I do believe my reasons are largely sound.

1. Who is your neighbor?

When you're traveling all over the world/country/continent it has to be hard finding church communities wherein you can grow and learn to serve your neighbor. Suppose you speak English and Spanish and are spending a month in Korea? Where is your fellowship? Too many Christians are already going to church with a shop around, consumer mentality for me to think lightly of people voluntarily entering a situation that will drastically limit their opportunities for corporate worship. If we're going to actively love and serve and encourage and challenge each other that requires an investment in time you won't get if you're constantly moving on. While I'm not at church every single Sunday, I am there most Sundays. I grew up church hopping - going to one church for a few weeks or a couple years and then one Sunday just not going. I've got a lot of memories and no friends from those years. Fast forward to shortly after Allen and I met. For ten years (on and off as we've moved away and come back) we've been part of one church and one denomination. I've got roots here. There are kids here that I met at babies (or even attended their baby showers). Even if I don't know everyone so well as I would like, there's a history here and a form of faithfulness that we all come together and put up with each other. I don't really see how you can get that when you're always moving from city to city.

2. Where is your family?

While there are a few people who may be doing this without leaving grandparents, aunts, and other extended family behind that's not the norm for more families. There are siblings and parents and cousins and others who should have a place in your life. So maybe your kids have splashed in the Tigris and the Nile. Maybe they speak a little Mandarin or a have a favorite German street food. Is that more important than having a grandfather who taught them to build a fire on their first camping trip? Is it more important than the great pillow fight of '09 between your kids and your sister's kids? What about the Christmas Uncle Joe let them light bottle rockets? Do grandmothers not color in picture books anymore? The Bible is pretty big on taking care of family, and that's hard to do when family is on a whole different continent. You might not see Argentina very well in two weeks, but at least you'll be teaching your kids that love of people and duty towards family comes before treating life like some egoistic pleasure cruise.

3. What about your stuff?

This is probably going to sound like the least Christian objection. After all, if we're going to Heaven then working to earn a bunch of stuff seems kind of pointless. Except that God says it's not. Throughout the Bible God praises the wise and the diligent - the who seeks to lay up and inheritance for his children and who gives generously to the poor. When you seek a lifestyle that allows little for charity but gives you lots of "freedom" and "options" the main recipient of your generosity is yourself. We have a God who loves to give us good things, and some of the things might weight down the carefully curated selection of personal items in your L.L. Bean backpacks. That's ok! Stop spending your life focused solely on what you want to get out of it.

With all that said I love the idea of people traveling together as families. I think it's a huge blessing and a wonderful way for families to enjoy each other. I just think there are ways to travel that don't involve neglecting our duties to our families and to God. My family used to see a lot in nine days of RV travel. Some people might be able to take a month. I'm all for it. I just don't think it's wise for Christians to emulate this sort of vagabond, world traveler lifestyle. To me it smacks of egocentricity and a willful avoidance of the sort of productive community life I believe God desires for us.

Caveat: I realize that some of my objections can apply to foreign missionaries, and I don't want to sound like I believe long term life away from one's family or in an environment the necessitates few possessions is always wrong. Missionaries in many ways pay a high price for their service. The drawbacks are real, but the commission is also real.

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