When I was fourteen years old, I went on my first week-long trek in the White Mountains. Gathering my hiking gear consisted of calling up a friend who had done the trip a year earlier and asking if I could borrow her backpack and hiking boots. The boots were a whole size too big; nothing thick socks and tight laces couldn’t solve. I remember a lot from that trip, but not much about the gear or its performance.
Scroll forward 27 years and here I am preparing for a trek around Scotland; not even a major one in terms of foot mileage, just some day trips around Edinburgh and Iona. And do you know what? I have spent hours researching the right hiking boots! I have bought, tried, and returned six pairs already, and the search continues…
It is a new era. Online shopping has brought us limitless selections and variety and endless (endless!) access to consumer reviews. Forget about just asking a neighbor what boots they wore on a hike, we can sit up until 1am reading about the boot choices of 500 neighbors. What we have created is a sense that the ideal object (for our personality, our preferences, our activity level, and the height of our arches) is out there waiting for us; we just have to find it.
Pilgrimage is at risk of becoming a consumer event. Focus on individual preference erases the skills of adapting to the community, not unlike GPS stealing our navigational skills. Variety and choice can keep us on the surface where we search for a life (and faith) customized specifically to each of us.
My fear is that (just as the red line train into Boston is full of humans looking at screens instead of one another) we are separating. We are believing more and more in self-sufficiency. We are focusing on the boots instead of on the path, the schedule instead of the companions along the way.
I want to recommit this year to being a companion along the way with you, with the rest of the body of Christ, and the rest of God’s diverse creation. I want to adapt more often, rejoicing in the fact that my functional but imperfect boots mean less time shopping and more time in community. I want to go to events at inconvenient times, rejoicing in the event and the people and living in hope that the chosen time was what made it possible for someone else to attend at all.
I propose that we as a church community put our time, energy, resources, and ideas into a few things where we all show up, rather than a menu of things that serve only a few souls. I want to be “all in” this year and take on imperfection as a goal and adaptability as a resolution for the sake of being together in all the messiness, inconvenience, and beauty of community – with you!
Yours in Christ,
* Image above is Old Boots painted by Michael Arnold, 2018.