Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Faith Works 7-16-11

Jeff Gill

Where Would Jesus Vacation?


Empty pews often mean vacationing families this time of year, as folks leave their familiar scenes of church & community to try out a new landscape, and get some "relaxation" in.

The scare quotes go 'round "relaxation" because so many of us work hard at our leisure, cramming in experiences and sidetrips and meals and such to the point where we come back from vacation exhausted.

So for those of you who manage to re-create yourselves in your recreation, and get down on your downtime, congratulations. That seems like a worthy goal, alongside of learning about new places & gaining a variety of experiences. Growth and broadening are good for mind, body, and spirit, but if you run around to do the same things you do back home, just in different chains or under new nameplates, but within shouting distance of a beach (that you rarely see), then I'd speak up for just finding a place to veg out and relax.

Christians might find themselves asking, whatever type of vacation experience they pursue, the classic question: What would Jesus do? The ol' "WWJD?" query.

Or reframed here as "Where would Jesus vacation?" Or just: would he?

Well, yes – that's the simple answer. The details are a bit more challenging.

Over and over in Mark & Luke's gospel accounts, Jesus takes some time "in a place apart." These mentions are usually tied specifically to the words "for prayer," but the overall sense is clearly for renewal and restoration.

There's a whole 'nother column about the value & place of spiritual retreat, which is rarely identical to what any of us mean by vacation, but there is some overlap.

When you look at Jesus' travels, though, you find a man who regularly goes to Jerusalem (yes, for Temple ceremonies, but he clearly goes more frequently than even piety of the day called for), and also ends up in unexpected places like Caesarea Philippi, also known as Banias, or the place of Pan.

Banias, known during Roman rule as Caesarea Philippi, was a bit of a Las Vegas. It was a resort community around the springs of the headwaters of the Jordan, populated with many myriad shrines to a plethora of pagan gods. It made a great backdrop to Jesus' question to Simon soon to be Peter, "who do you say that I am?" but it was an odd spot to find an observant Jew.

Then there was the road trip to Sidon & Tyre, where the notable tale of the encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman occurs ("even dogs can eat scraps from the table" she says to the alien rabbi from whom she seeks healing). However you read the gospel record, Jesus was not just a homebody, nor did he only travel on church business.

The wider tradition suggests that during the so-called "hidden years" between twelve and thirty, Jesus might have journeyed to the East, perhaps as far as India, where Hebrew traders had outposts in that era; British lore has long held that a young Jesus came with relative and businessman Joseph of Arimathea to see the tin mines of Cornwall, and either with him or inspiring Joseph to return after the Resurrection to establish Glastonbury.

As William Blake wrote: "And did those feet in ancient time/Walk upon England's mountains green:/And was the holy Lamb of God,/On England's pleasant pastures seen?"

At any rate, it doesn't seem too far out on a limb to say that Jesus would have, did have the occasion and opportunity to take a break and a trip from time to time. It wasn't all carpentry in the shop in Nazareth and then a relentless round of preaching for three years across Galilee and Judea.

What is clear, though, is that you don't stop praying or maintaining your spiritual practice on vacation. In fact, vacation might well be the time to focus on and refine your discipline to seek communion & communication with God.

That might be the best souvenir you can bring back.

Meanwhile, I hope many of you try out a worship service somewhere on vacation, and I'd love to hear from some of you about what you learned about your own services and practices back home, through your tourist's eyes on the road.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; yes, he's on vacation this past week – how could you tell? Tell him your story of worship on the road at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.