On June 14, 2012

The Strange Nature of Leaving

So hang with me on this one…If you were an alien just coming down to check out the world for the first time. If you were hoping to see what we valued and held as important, where would you go?

Now if you as an alien, wanted to discover what the richest people of the world cared about, not the insanely rich that most Americans are tempted to compare themselves to. (That kind of research would be easy, you’d just have to watch Cribz) but the people who are wealthier than the vast majority of the world. You know the ones who can eat any time they want to, and actually own a car and have a roof over their heads. In America we tend to call them something like middle class, but only because we compare them to Donald Trump.

You would recognize this all as an alien because you don’t need to think in the categories that we, as insiders, have been given and think within.

So where would you go as an alien to research what these very wealthy people care about. I submit to you, potential travelling researching alien that you would go to the airport. You would fly on a plane, a luxury reserved for the very few elite of the world who actually have enough money to defy gravity and move across the world as easily as if Delhi was just a bus ride away.

And there you would find Sky Mall.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on airplanes the last few days, now we are hanging out in the Katmandu airport, with 1 flight down and 3 more to go.  When were finally home, we will have spent half a week in the sky. And after a while the siren’s call of the sky mall can overpower the strongest of persons. So you find yourselves find thumbing through the most insane of products thinking to yourself, what idiot would buy this? And then you suddenly find something that you realize you cannot live without, answering your own question.

But as I read through Sky Mall these last few days, I noticed something that I never had before. Every product that Sky Mall sells really falls into a couple of categories.

  1. Comfort
  2. Entertainment
  3. Not being bald

Seriously, that’s it. Here’s a magazine that has a very specific demographic, one that’s solely targeted to the world’s richest people (though they rarely think of themselves that way). And the things that they’ve learned will sell, that they value enough to shell out 3 easy payments of $99.95 is being comfortable, being entertained or not losing any more hair (has anyone else noticed how many hair loss helmets Sky Mall is selling? I guess if they don’t work we could always start a NFL team of balding men)

I want to say to this potential alien, we’re really not like that. We care about things deeper than that. But the evidence might start stacking up against us. Think about the things that we see every day in the magazines in our grocery stores. The things we have come to accept as normal. Women who so skinny they are just two meals away from death are heralded as something we should aspire to date or be. Cosmo’s introduced 21 new sex positions, which are strangely similar to ones that people have been trying for thousands of years (Or so I’ve been told).  The articles that are about our relationships are more about how to take control in them. We crave beauty over substance, and comfort over significance.

So I’ve spent this last week and a half with a team in Nepal, working with the poorest of the world’s poor. Many of them don’t have access to luxuries like riding a bus, or clean water, or not being sold into sexual slavery. Some of them haven’t seen white people before, and they look at us like we are aliens.

We have left our normal and entered someone else’s. It’s a normal that does not involve Burger Kings and Direct TV and Men’s Health or Sky Malls.  And this is what makes short term missions so powerful. It’s the strange nature of leaving your own culture to give you new eyes to see it from a different perspective. You begin to realize that there are lots of ways to be rich and lots of ways to be poor.

You begin to realize that the American dream is for much of the world, just that, a dream, one impossible to fathom let alone realize.

And for many living the dream it can become more of a nightmare.

Forget being significant or making a mark on the universe, We have been taught to pursue being comfortable and entertained and we have become quite successful at achieving our goals.

But what if the worst thing we can do with our lives isn’t to fail, but to succeed at something that doesn’t actually matter?

So if you are some of the many Bible Belt Church going people who are headed out this summer on a short term mission trip, what if you approached it a bit like an alien? What if we realized that much of the gift of these trips isn’t just the going, but also the gift of leaving?

We are able to get new eyes to see what we had previously been blind to see.

Maybe the pursuit of happiness at the expense of so much of the world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Unless you are of course balding. Then by all means, shop at Sky Mall.

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  • http://twitter.com/pcunningham3 Philip Cunningham

     Probably your best post of the year.  So far.

  • John Wallace

    That’s a good thought right there.

  • Beauangel-Kathy

    Bravo, Jonathan on many levels. One that ran through my mind was seeing your blog today as a rebuttal to a very harsh put down of all short term mission trips, that they depart the country visited, they also leave frustrated poor who with the outpouring of dollars or what the dollar can buy realize they will never obtain that level of earthly wealth. I disagreed when first I read the article and your blog certainly puts it to rest, for the most part.
    Another level comes from eyes that after 30 years, became so accustomed to seeing a sort of kind of poverty you saw it just became part of today’s reality. One tries to do something every day that will help aleviate just one tiny portion of grinding poverty, trying to open the door of hope – not only hope here on earth, but the greater eternal hope. One begins to feel it’s like throwing a pebble into a huge vat of melted tar, in an attempt to build the pebbles up until they become a pebble walkway.
    There are so many others, but those two will do to tell you how much I appreciate your insights…..that you LOOK for them, seek them out and then share them with us. May your last flights bring you back home to us changed yet again by this latest trip into the truth of the world many of us have as much likelihood of seeing or understanding than those we meet in those areas of the world ever have of seeing their lives changed into USA style middle class life. Jesus didn’t give up, and neither have you, and hopefully, neither will any of us!  Early welcome home!!!! In His eternal love, grace and mercy! – Kathy

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