“Go. The world awaits.”
This has become the dominant narrative for Christian leaders trying to inspire young people. Just flip through the advertisements in a magazine like RELEVANT, whose primary audience is 18-29 year old Christians.
Since this is a dominant narrative in the broader culture, it’s also a great way to sell your product, be that a college education, a social good enterprise, or simply a story.
“Go. The world awaits.”
My fear is that this narrative can do three unhelpful things as it relates to the Gospel as I see it:
First, it provides justification for abandoning those closest to you for the possibility of something great. Loving the “nameless needy” is much easier than loving my 5 year old who insists on not wearing a pull-up but then still pees the bed at least 3 times a week. Being generous and loving to a stranger in a 3rd world country is, for me at least, much easier emotionally and spiritually, than engaging in a healthy conflict with my neighbor when he tells me that my kid’s chalk-art makes the neighborhood look trashy. But the Gospel is about incarnation, that is, diving deeply into the present time and present place. Jesus wasn’t a world-traveler and to be frank, he didn’t go change the world. He was a Jew who lived in a small village and taught the people who were there. No products, no grand vision that required him to abandon the insignificant location he found himself in.
This leads to my second concern, that by not rooting ourselves in a particular location for a long period of time, we can easily escape the hard internal work we need to be doing on ourselves. That is to say, it’s easy to be distracted by the flashing lights of new external environments to the point that I neglect my internal development. In a new context, there are plenty of things to keep me busy: get to know people, places, cultural trends, etc. In the midst of this excitement, personal spiritual disciplines are harder to focus and develop.
And finally, this narrative that the greatest things in our lives happen “out there,” is what Zizek (after Lacan) would call an “objet petite a,” it’s like searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If it’s always “out there” then it’s never, by definition, “right here.” There is always a place that better fits you and your dreams than where you are. And that seems related to number one above, but also seems irrational as a story that we live our lives by. It leads to us finally “giving up” and “settling” somewhere because the story that great things happen “out there” is, by definition, a story that can only stop but never be resolved.
These thoughts began last summer as my friend Caleb told me that he asked his parents for forgiveness. He went to them to apologize for buying into the idea that the Gospel inherently involved “going,” with no option of “staying.” He apologized for leaving his hometown simply because “that’s what you do if you want to make an impact.”
So this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t move or that there aren’t locations that are better fits for us and how we pursue a Kingdom life. It’s just the beginning of a conversation. About staying home to do great things for God. About committing to our hometowns to find ourselves. About learning what it means to be connected to places like Jesus seemed to be.