Sunday, August 25, 2013

Responsible Travel: I don't know

What does it meant to travel well? Be a good traveler? See the world with responsibility?

I ask questions 10 ways before I’m sure what I’m asking. Before I know what the question is. A philosophy friend once suggested that asking the right questions is closest to having the right answers. And it’s a question I’ll be mulling over this year.
I’m not sure how to begin the process. Because I’m asking this question as I’m living in another country, as I’m about to start two weeks of travelling around the Balkans to different places.
This question occurred when I went to India through PSU in 2010 for three weeks. It was a complicated question about “service” and western intervention in other cultures. The question soured the after trip processing that our team did.
It occurred last summer and I talked about it in the “tourism of the holy”.
It came up for me again last weekend when our group of Fulbrighters went to a monastery and a street fair about an hour away from our hotel in Pravets. We walked around with a huge crowd. There were people everywhere, eating cotton candy, beer under the tents, carrying their children or pushing them in strollers through the cobbled courtyard. There was a long line to enter the church, candles burning outside on the vestibule. The ceiling was darkened by the centuries of  burning candles and incense. I didn’t know how to stand in the church. I don’t know how to venerate an icon. I wouldn’t even if I knew. I felt distanced from the tourists who might have been worshipers, touching the icon and standing around the room, lighting their candles. I watched the light come in from the ceiling, dusty and strung with cobwebs.
I left after a few minutes, unable to feel settled and walked behind the church. There was a gate to a construction zone. Alex decided to walk in and I followed. We ended up in the bell tower, the bells anchored from ringing with ropes tied to the ledge of the small wooden stairwell.
Later, we walked around the market before we ate lunch. And I wondered at my resistance to be moved or awed by the church, at the distance I felt. I wanted to worship. I felt like I was faking it if I tried.

I expressed this discomfort on the walk to K.C. I wanted to feel guilty as a spectator, to somehow negate the process of tourism of seeing. Did I think I would pick up culture and allure like burs in the woods as I saw different sights? What did I think seeing meant?
K.C. rejected this feeling of awkwardness. That travel is not the same as tourism. The same action can be an act of respect with the right spirit instead of one of distancing. “Travel demystifies the ‘other’ and we see common humanity.” So in what way is travel a respectful and loving process? In what way do I see things without imagining that the goal is for me to be a more charming and interesting person?
Aviva said in a post, "The art work and the architecture and lighting are just so beautiful you can't help but look up and believe in God - any God." K.C. also noted that allowing someone into a space of worship is allowing people to be in the same experience at the same time. I wasn’t sure how this could completely be true. People have very subjective experiences of the same moments.
Perhaps this post is merely to present the question. For you to know that this theme might meander its way through other posts. Keep it in mind. Share thoughts. I’m new to this!


emillikan said...

Dana, have you read Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains? I'm nearing the end and I feel like this is a great antidote to some of our Western hesitancy about cultural invasion and whatnot. It's a biography of a doctor who basically brought good medicine to incredibly poor parts of Haiti, and he's vehement about caring for the poor always being a good thing. A friend of his in the book says, "Do you know what appropriate technology means? It means good things for rich people and shit for the poor." --You're not in a third-world country, I know. But it is interesting to read about someone (he's a doctor but also an anthropologist) encountering a different culture and saying "It's my job to change this, because people are suffering," and for the suffering people to agree with him completely. It's really inspired me to think about what we're doing in Ukraine and how we can do it better. Good reading, good thinking, fun vocabulary ("a hermeneutics of generosity" is one phrase), even if the application isn't direct.
Hi from the North Shore!

emillikan said...

I'm also interested in your hesitancy about worshiping there - I'd like to hear more.

Annie said...

This is an interesting question.

I've never really thought about it before, particularly in regards to churches; it has always seemed to me that any church or cathedral in Europe, on the basis of its age, is like a museum of itself. So it's never quite struck me, the irony of touring a place where people worship.

It did strike me when I heard the church that purchased the building in which my church began over a hundred years ago had opened their doors for our church members to tour. They have things going on in there, I thought. And why do we need to see where this started anyway? What would be the point of that?

I've learned in my travels, particularly since many of them have been on mission trips, to just lay myself open for the Lord to teach me something, whether that be in a cathedral or on the street, through a person of that nation be he Christian or not, through observing the culture, or whatever other way He sees fit.

And I've found that sometimes the only lesson I learn is that one can build a grandiose cathedral towering into the sky, laden with the costly, or one can offer one's small heart to the care of Christ, and which is of greater value? My heart, somehow, is what He wants, and I resolve to learn better the art of surrender.

Because I can build a cathedral, and it may stand for a millennium, and that would be a long time. Or I can choose to build a part of His kingdom with the small stone of my heart, and that will stand forever.

And maybe, that's part of the Lord's purpose for you - and even the rest of us wherever we are - as you live in Bulgaria: to show the difference between extravagant display and authentic worship.