Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

The Hellish Risk of Sharing a Journey

For whatever reason, Ben Healy finally snapped. The Instagramming of other people’s travel pictures was too much, so he wrote an article for The Atlantic entitled “Hell Is Other People’s Vacations.”

Who wants to hear of other people’s stories about eating with abandon (he reports that in trips of one to three weeks, people gain an average of .7 pounds, which I find a ridiculously low estimate!). Who wants to know about someone’s experience being chased by wild bulls in Spain, parachuting in Ecuador, or how one finagled to get upgraded to business class? No wonder a study found that travel provokes major envy—”perhaps the single most toxic substance known to man.” 62 percent of people on Facebook, who admit to being induced to jealousy, say it is triggered by someone’s leisure experiences.

So what am I to do? Just returning from a two-week study tour in Greece, as well as an additional week to give lectures in Belgrade and preach in Holland, I wonder if it is safe to write about moments I worshipped in an ancient church in Thessaloniki, visited a monastery in Meteora,  walked through the ancient city of Ephesus, climbed a citadel in Rhodes, and surveyed a warrior culture in Sparta. I would like to send a picture of my teatime with Prince Alexander and Princess Katrina in Serbia, but maybe I should keep it all to myself (along with all the pictures of the palace). They even held my book for the photo, but why talk of it?

I divided time with a geologist, speaking to university students at different universities, but maybe I shouldn’t go into details. And why expand on the Serbian cuisine, the midnight dinners, the conversation with the Minister of Finance, and the stunning sight of the world’s second-largest Orthodox church? Did I mention we were able to go on a tour into the bowels of the church, places most tourists never go? I shouldn’t say more.

There was the cruise through the Greek islands. But it was all part of a New Testament study, so why not share some of it? This was not vacation nor leisure. This was work! There was the hike in Crete where I discovered the reason Cretans were known as constant liars (Titus 1:12). Standing on Mars Hill in Athens, I gained a deeper appreciation for why Paul was seized by the sight before him and compelled to speak. The ruins of so many pagan temples on mountaintops provided a whole new interpretation of Psalm 121. And looking at the geography of Corinth explains Paul’s constant warning against arrogance.

I could go on, but should I? There was the irony of being cautioned against reading from Scripture in Delphi. This was the ancient place in Greece where kings like Lycourgos from Sparta came to receive an oracle, a sacred order for defining how one should live life. People are still seeking a revelation, a prophecy from the divine, but please keep the Bible to yourself.

Looking at the ruins of the temple of Zeus in Olympus, where victorious athletes received a laurel wreath, I thought about how empty it must feel to see it wilt over time. (At least I could polish my gold-plated tennis trophies). Paul, of course, points to a better race and a better reward (1 Cor 9:25). There was the beauty of Holland, the old charm that remains in the village where we lived. The cheese and the Dutch sky and the stunning beauty–and the pain of speaking in a church I once pastored, one filled at the present with strife. Okay, I will stop here.

But wait. This I can—and must also share. Throughout these three weeks, I read and reflected on Carl Truman’s thoughts again and again. They helped frame my trip. We are, as he put it, in a strange new world, where institutions no longer have the same stability, the center of gravity is changing, and self is replacing a vacuum caused by the rejection of God. Watching the news, it can feel we are entering “an uncharted and dark era.”  It explains the graffiti, the current unrest, and the growing anxiety. This is more and more apparent in these parts of Europe, as it is in our own culture, and this creates a hell far worse than other people’s vacations.  It is time for the church to wake up and be the salt and light and hope the world desperately needs.

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