“How can they do this to me two days in a row!”
The hour was late. The line for Delta’s help desk was long. Weather had forced dozens of flight delays and cancellations. The woman behind me was having a very public meltdown, venting her frustration and exhaustion on the phone with a friend.
I didn’t blame her. She was clearly overwhelmed and miserable. But since anxiety seemed contagious, I stepped out line. In a quiet spot I regathered my calm, pulled up an app, and worked things out with the airline.
Reflecting on this experience got me thinking about traveling. Lots of people have said to me lately that traveling is no fun anymore. And that made me wonder if maybe they expected that traveling ought to be fun. That somehow the hardships, disruptions, and petty indignities were unfair.
Well, maybe that’s true when it comes to what we can ask of our airlines. But being who I am—a bishop and a philosopher and an introvert whose mind never quite shuts off—it occurred to me that travel is lot like life.
That’s when the late Anthony Bourdain came to mind. He was the celebrity chef, author, and host of the travel documentary series “Parts Unknown.” As the name of the show suggests, he spent his months on end going to places that most of his viewers had never visited. From Antartica to Zanzibar. From Laos to southern Louisiana.
But he didn’t just pass through and help us gawk at scenery from a safe and comfy distance. He connected deeply with the people and the places by sharing the meals that defined and nurtured a very different pattern of life from his own.
He went to parts unknown to be changed by them. Changed into a truer version of the self he was always meant to be. And perhaps paradoxically, that how’s he—and how any of us—will make the mark we are meant to make on this world.
To be yourself involves going to parts unknown with an open heart. As Bourdain put it, be a traveler, not just a tourist. He once said this:
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
Substitute “life” for “travel” above. Like this:
“Life isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
Jesus made a habit of going to parts unknown. To places beyond his usual experience and outside his comfort zone. And it wasn’t always pretty.
Especially the Jesus we meet in Luke’s Gospel tends to ramble into parts unknown. Into Gentile country. One of those trips was especially strange. He sailed across the Sea of Galilee into the country of the Gerasenes. (Luke 8:26-39) In our terms that’s the Golan Heights. It wasn’t Jewish territory.
As soon as Jesus stepped onto the shore a stark naked Gentile threw himself at Jesus’ feet. Writhing in the dirt he shouted, “What are you doing here! You don’t belong here. Don’t hurt me! Don’t hurt me! Don’t hurt me!”
Not comfortable. Right?
Luke tells us that, strictly speaking, demons were doing the talking. Not the man himself. These demons had taken up residence in the man’s soul. And if you read the passage you’ll see that this is a peculiar exorcism story. Jesus casts a legion of demons into a herd of pigs who then hurl themselves into the sea and drown. The man is restored to his right man and a decent life.
The whole demon thing and the exorcism and all the rest are worth pondering, but my point here is different. There would never been an exorcism in the first place if Jesus had not ventured into parts unknown. Had he not been willing to be a stranger in a strange land.
This God-thing happened because Jesus was willing to go to strange, awkward, uncomfortable places. Messy places. The exorcism was Jesus being more truly Jesus in response to someone else’s real life. And, by being himself, Jesus gave back to the world, to that community, a restored human being.
Jesus teaches us to travel. To go to parts unknown. More and more these days, we’re tempted to stay in our own little bubble. We talk to the people who think like us, vote like us, look like us. Jesus tells us to go to parts unknown.
Encounter others with an open heart in order to become your true self. After all, that’s who God made each of us to be. And it is only as our true self that we will make the impact on this world that God is calling us to make. As Howard Thurman put it, “What the world needs is people who have come alive.”
If all of this talk of parts unknown doesn’t really seem Jesus-y to you, just consider this. The risen Jesus shows up in your messy life and in my messy life. Just exactly as we are. You and I are the very parts unknown that Jesus yearns to visit, does visit, every day. Now he sends you and me into the world to do the same with the messy lives all around us.
My latest book is Looking for God in Messy Places. You can learn more and grab a copy by clicking here or ordering from your favorite local book seller.