G. K. Chesterton, the Prince of Paradox, on Travel

August 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

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The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

So says G. K. Chesterton, prolific British author and Christian apologist, whose life bridged the 19th and 20th centuries.

Chesterton has much to say about travel, largely on how to do it well and how it can affect the traveller.

The quotation above comes from “The Riddle of the Ivy,” a short sketch in his Tremendous Trifles. When a friend asks why he is packing his luggage, Chesterton tells him he is traveling through Paris, Belfort, Heidelberg, and Frankfort, with the aim of finding the Battersea district of London.

Knowing that his destination is their current location, his friend says, “I suppose it is unnecessary to tell you that this is Battersea?”

“It is quite unnecessary,” I said, “and it is spiritually untrue. I cannot see any Battersea here; I cannot see any London or any England. I cannot see that door. I cannot see that chair: because a cloud of sleep and custom has come across my eyes. The only way to get back to them is to go somewhere else; and that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure of holidays. Do you suppose that I go to France in order to see France? Do you suppose that I go to Germany in order to see Germany? I shall enjoy them both; but it is not them that I am seeking. I am seeking Battersea. The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

And then the man who deals so much with paradox that he has been called “the prince of paradox” cautions his friend, with threat of physical harm, against referring to his thoughts as paradoxical:

“Now I warn you that this Gladstone bag is compact and heavy, and that if you utter that word ‘paradox’ I shall hurl it at your head. I did not make the world, and I did not make it paradoxical. It is not my fault, it is the truth, that the only way to go to England is to go away from it.”

A month later, his opinion is confirmed when he returns to England and sees it with a wonderful freshness. An American traveling companion is struck by England as well, but for her it is because this is her first time there.

“I have never been in England before,” said the American lady, “yet it is so pretty that I feel as if I have been away from it for a long time.”

For the American it is déjà vu. For Chesterton, is it déjà new?

Not Seeing What You See

Regardless of the destination, believes Chesterton, there is much more to traveling than simply taking a trip. He writes that “true” travelers let the experience of a destination come to them, without manipulating it with expectations and prejudices. Therefore he says,

The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.

This comes from the following passage in his Autobiography:

I had pottered about in France ever since my father took me there as a boy; and Paris was the only foreign capital I knew. I owe it to him that I was at least a traveller and not a tripper. The distinction is not snobbish; indeed it is one rather of epoch than education; half the trouble about the modern man is that he is educated to understand foreign languages and misunderstand foreigners. The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. A true traveller in a primitive epic or folk-tale did not pretend to like a beautiful princess because she was beautiful. It is still true of a poor sailor; of a tramp; in short, of a traveller. Thus he need form no opinion of Paris newspapers; but if he wanted to, he would probably read them. The tripper never reads them, calls them rags, and knows as much about the rags as the chiffonnier who picks them up with a spike.

I understand why the common version of this quotation uses tourist in place of tripper. We don’t use tripper much today, at least not with this meaning. And I don’t think that Chesterton would mind. He writes,

It is the most sincere compliment to an author to misquote him. It means that his work has become a part of our mind and not merely of our library.

Bevis Hiller, in The Wit and Wisdom of G K Chesterton, gives the origin for this quotation as the December 31, 1927, issue of GK’s Weekly, though I couldn’t track down the original source. While I have no reason not to trust Hiller, wouldn’t it be ironic if Chesterton never said this?

The Broad and the Narrow Ways

They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind.

One of the characters in Chesterton’s stories is the crime-solving poet Gabriel Gale. In “The Shadow and the Shark,” Gale discusses Mr. Amos Boon, a former missionary who has decided he prefers the Philistines of the Bible to those biblical characters who follow God. While defending Boon against charges of murder, he does not defend the “broadening” of his mind.

“Boon is a good man,” said Gale, calmly; “he is very stupid; that is why he is an atheist. There are intelligent atheists, as we shall see presently; but that stunted, stupid, sort is much commoner, and much nicer. But he is a good man; his motive is good; he originally talked all that tosh of the superiority of the savage because he thought he was the under-dog. He may be a trifle cracked, by now, about sharks and other things; but that’s only because his travels have been too much for his intellect. They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind. He had a mind for a suburban chapel, and there passed before it all the panorama of gilded nature-worship and purple sacrifice. He doesn’t know if he’s on his head or his heels, any more than a good many others. But I shouldn’t wonder if heaven is largely populated with atheists of that sort, scratching their heads and wondering where they are.

If “they” say that travel broadens the mind, Chesterton himself says traveling presents the danger of making the mind more narrow:

I have never managed to lose my old conviction that travel narrows the mind. At least a man must make a double effort of moral humility and imaginative energy to prevent it from narrowing his mind. Indeed there is something touching and even tragic about the thought of the thoughtless tourist, who might have stayed at home loving Laplanders, embracing Chinamen, and clasping Patagonians to his heart in Hampstead or Surbiton, but for his blind and suicidal impulse to go and see what they looked like. This is not meant for nonsense; still less is it meant for the silliest sort of nonsense, which is cynicism. The human bond that he feels at home is not an illusion. On the contrary, it is rather an inner reality. Man is inside all men. In a real sense any man may be inside any men. But to travel is to leave the inside and draw dangerously near the outside. So long as he thought of men in the abstract, like naked toiling figures in some classic frieze, merely as those who labour and love their children and die, he was thinking the fundamental truth about them. By going to look at their unfamiliar manners and customs he is inviting them to disguise themselves in fantastic masks and costumes. Many modern internationalists talk as if men of different nationalities had only to meet and mix and understand each other. In reality that is the moment of supreme danger—the moment when they meet. We might shiver, as at the old euphemism by which a meeting meant a duel.

The paradox of travel.

(G. K. Chesterton, “The Riddle of the Ivy,” Tremendous Trifles, Methuen, 1909; Bevis Hiller, The Wit and Wisdom of G K Chesterton, Continuum, 2011; Chesterton, Autobiography, Hutchinson, 1936; Chesterton, “The Shadow of the Shark,” The Poet and the Lunatics: Episodes in the Life of Gabriel Gale, Cassell, 1929; Chesterton, “What Is America?” What I Saw in America, Hodder, 1922)

[illustration: “G.K. Chesterton,” by giveaway boy, used under a Creative Commons license]

Mom and Dad, Thanks for Letting Us Go without Letting Go of Us [Repost]

July 24, 2015 § 2 Comments

[In honor of Parents’ Day, July 26, I am reposting an open letter from my wife and me to all parents of missionaries. We wrote it during our time serving in Taiwan.]

Dear Mom and Dad:

Thank you for raising us to know about God and his love for the world.

Thank you for letting us go without letting go of us.

Thank you for forgiving late birthday cards.

Thank you for praying for us.

Thank you for giving up time with your grandchildren.

Thank you for your e-mails and letters and calls.

Thank  you for sending Barbie Dolls, Tic Tacs, Koolaid, socks, Reader’s Digests, and Lucky Charms cereal.

Thank you for your questions about our new home and work.

Thank you for being patient and understanding when we tell you how exciting it is to live in another part of the world.

Thank you for being patient and understanding when, two days later, we complain about living in that same place.

Thank you for not making us feel selfish for wanting to go.  Sometimes we feel that way on our own.

Thank you for listening to our stories about people you’ll never meet with names you can’t pronounce.

Thank you for being our ambassadors.

Thank you for sending clippings from our hometown newspaper.

Thank you for telling us about our neighbors, classmates, and cousins—all the stories that don’t make the news.

Thank you for letting our brothers and sisters stand in for us when we’re too far away to do our part in the family.  (They really should get their own letter.)

Thank you for loving us.

Thank you for trusting Jesus to take care of us when you can’t.

Thank you for being proud of us.  We are proud of you.

We chose to be a missionary family, not you, and we understand that our move has meant many sacrifices for you.  You are not only a part of our family but an invaluable part of our team.

With all our love,

Your children

[photo: “leaving us,” by Petras Gagilas, used under a Creative Commons license]

Encountering God: A Tale of Two Bushes

July 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

[I’ve written a post for today at A Life Overseas. The introduction is below. Come join me there, finish the post, and stay awhile.]

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A fresco by Raphael, in the Vatican Museums

I want to hear God. I want to know his specific will for my life. I want him to tell me what to do next. I want . . .

A Burning Bush

It worked for Moses. When he was on Mt. Horeb and saw the bush that burned but didn’t burn up, he went over to get a closer look. That’s when God spoke to him in an unmistakable, clear, audible voice.

God called him by name.
He announced who he was.
He told Moses the overall plan.
He answered Moses’ questions.
He promised to be with him.
He gave Moses a sign to show that he had sent him.
He revealed his name to him.
He gave him step-by-step directions.
He told him what to expect.
He gave him the ability to perform three miraculous signs.
He promised his help.
And he responded to Moses’ fears by allowing him a helper.

Yeah, a burning bush. That’ll do it.

As a former missionary—oh, forget that—as a believer in God, I’ve faced many times when I’ve wanted him to communicate with me through a miracle. I’ve even been tempted to let my imagination wring meaning out of not uncommon occurrences: The supermarket is selling spagghetti 50% off? Surely that means that God want’s me to move to Italy . . . and I can leave with only half the money raised . . . right?

But when it comes to hearing from God, I think there’s another kind of Old Testament bush that we should look for—

A Broom Bush . . .

Go to A Life Overseas to continue reading.

[photo: “O Adonai,” by Lawrence OP, used under a Creative Commons license]

Of the Translation of Books . . .

July 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Here’s a mystery I wonder if you can solve.

Who holds the top spot as the most translated author (at least in the last 30 or so years)? Take a guess. I’ll bet you a shiny new nickel that you won’t get it right.

How about I give you some hints? If you thought it was Shakespeare, sorry (hint). In fact, translations of her (hint, hint) works outnumber the Bard’s by nearly 70%. The answer really is a mystery (hint, hint, hint). Got it? Give up?

Here you go: The holder of the top spot is none other than Agatha Christie.

Who says so? Well, the ranking is part of UNESCO’s Index Translationum, which has been collecting translation data since 1932. Since the online database dates from only 1979, it’s not exhaustive, but it does give us a good snapshot of more-recent translations.

So if Christie is in the top spot, and Shakespeare is number three, who else rounds out the top ten? Glad you asked.

  1. Agatha Christie (British, English)
  2. Jules Verne (French)
  3. William Shakespeare (British, English)
  4. Enid Blyton (British, English)
  5. Barbara Cartland (British, English)
  6. Danielle Steele (American, English)
  7. Vladimir Lenin (Russian)
  8. Hans Christian Anderson (Danish)
  9. Stephen King (American, English)
  10. Jacob Grimm (German, followed closely by Wilhelm, the other Brother Grimm)

Some of you are probably thinking, “Why isn’t the Apostle Paul on this list?” That’s because while the Bible is the most translated book in history, Paul’s contributions aren’t published as stand-alones. That leaves Paul well behind Christie, whose books number over 80. Fair enough.

Following are some other top-tens from the Index Translationum.

Top source languages:

  1. English (at over 1.2 million books, English has more translations than the next 49 languages combined)
  2. French
  3. German
  4. Russian
  5. Italian
  6. Spanish
  7. Swedish
  8. Japanese
  9. Danish
  10. Latin

____________________

Top target languages:

  1. German
  2. French
  3. Spanish
  4. English
  5. Japanese
  6. Dutch
  7. Russian
  8. Portuguese
  9. Polish
  10. Swedish

____________________

Top authors translated in China (I picked China because it has the most people in the world):

  1. Dale Carnegie (American, English)
  2. Hans Christian Andersen (Danish)
  3. Jules Verne (French)
  4. Maxim Gorky (Russian)
  5. Alexandre Dumas (French)
  6. Leo Tolstoy (Russian)
  7. Arthur Conan Doyle (British, English)
  8. Thomas Brezina (Australian, English)
  9. Charles Dickens (British, English)
  10. Victor Hugo (French)

____________________

Top authors translated in the US (because that’s where I live):

  1. Rudolf Steiner (Austrian, German)
  2. Jacob Grimm (German)
  3. Wilhelm Grimm (German)
  4. Georges Simenon (Belgian, French)
  5. Hans Christian Anderson (Danish)
  6. Pope John Paul II (Italian)
  7. Plato (Greek)
  8. Dana Meachen Rau (American, English, translated into Spanish)
  9. Anton Chekov (Russian)
  10. Bobbie Kalman (Hungarian-born American, English, translated into Spanish; French translations make her number one for Canada)

[photo: “Libreria Gozzini,” by hjl, used under a Creative Commons license]

4 Ads for Your 4th

July 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

Here are 4 new advertisements in honor of the 4th of July. The first one actually commemorates the 4th. The others actually don’t. But it’s not July 1, so I needed 4 of them.

4 de Julio
Who knew that Honey Maid makes documentaries? This one’s about American immigrants. “When you first come here to America, you’re kind of like invisible. You don’t seem to be noticed, but at the same time you see that they’re looking at you.”

Hello Pizza
Last year, Brazil’s CNA language centers put English learners in contact with senior citizens in the US. Now they’re having them answer phoned-in pizza orders from the States. By staying on the line, customers can get their pizzas free. It’s a win-win with double cheese.

Are We There Yet?
You can use this to each your kids how to be annoying in five languages. This one came out late last year, but it’s new to me, which leaves me wondering: Have you seen it yet? Have you seen it yet? Have you seen it yet?

Great Chinese Names for Great Britain
“This was the first time in history that a country had invited the citizens of another to come up with names for its major landmarks.” What say we pop over to the Street for the Tall, Rich, and Handsome?

By the way, just in case you’ve never heard it asked before: Do the British have the 4th of July?

Of course they do. What else would come after the 3rd?

Steve Saint: Serving with Scars

June 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

8628515338_c776ab1942_mAfter hearing the news of Elisabeth Elliot’s death, I went back to the post I had written in 2013 about her and Steve Saint.

That led me to look for an update on Saint, as it’s been three years since he suffered a severe spinal-cord injury, leaving him an “incomplete quadriplegic.” What I found was another “next chapter” video produced last year by his Indigenous Peoples Technology and Education Center (I-TEC).

In it he talks about the value of using our suffering, our scars, to help others who are suffering in the same way. He refers specifically to Christians ministering to those who don’t know about Christ’s love, but his advice can also be applied to Christians sharing honestly with each other, not hiding the hurts they have faced, not “with makeup over all their wounds.”

People want to see Christ followers who have scars where they have wounds, so that they know that, hey, this person has been where I am, and then they trust us. So it’s time to take the makeup off, time to quit buttoning our collars up to our throats and wearing masks. People want to see that we have hurt.

I appreciate Saint’s willingness to show us how he is doing, even when he’s not doing as well as he, or the rest of us, would like. The whole of “God Doesn’t Waste Hurts” is well worth watching.

A few months before this video was posted, Saint spoke at the 2013 Global Missions Health Conference. During his presentation he fell, and used that moment as an opportunity to talk about North American missionaries. As people from the audience rushed to his aid, he said, “Wait a minute. I can do this.” And as he worked to get himself into a chair, he added,

You know, this is like missions. Whenever something happens that we don’t expect, we North Americans  always want to run in and fix it. And sometimes what we need to do is we need to just wait and give the people there a chance. . . . I can do this, I just need a chance.

You can watch his complete presentation on YouTube. It’s titled “Let God Write Your Story (But What If We Don’t Like the Next Chapter).”

[photo: “Cracks,” by Jamie Johnson, used under a Creative Commons license]

Tracing Paul Tillich’s Words on Listening and Love

June 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

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The first duty of love is to listen.
—Paul Tillich

I really like this quotation. It brings up images in my mind of friends sitting together over cups of coffee. Or maybe they’re a husband and wife, or a parent and child, or a teacher and student . . . or adversaries. Their body language and the expressions on their faces show that they are intent on truly hearing what the other has to say. Simple images for a simple quotation. At least it used to seem simple to me, until I traced it back to its origin.

First of all, did Tillich really say, “The first duty of love is to listen”? The answer is yes . . . and no. He’s the source, but those aren’t his exact words. More on that later.

So who is Paul Tillich, anyway? Born in Germany in 1886, Tillich grew up to be a well-known existential theologian (well-known, at least, among those who know about existential theologians). After finishing his university education, he was ordained a Lutheran minister and served as a military chaplain during World War I. Following the war, he lectured in German universities, but that came to an end when he was banned from those institutions because of his criticism of Hitler and the Nazis. He then moved to the US to teach at Union Theological Seminary, learned English, and later taught at Harvard and the University of Chicago, in time becoming an American citizen. Tillich often published his thoughts in book form, one of the more famous being his three-volume Systematic Theology.

What is Tillich’s theology? Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Some describe Tillich as a Christian theologian, some as an unorthodox Protestant, some as an existentialist philosopher, and still others as a pantheist or atheist.

Regardless of the controversy (or maybe because of it), his writings have a cool factor amongst today’s younger, hip Christian set. In Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, Brett McCracken puts Tillich on a list of “Things [Hipster Christians] Like.” But like isn’t strong enough for some, as McCracken says that “artistic-minded Christian Hipsters love Tillich.”

And that brings us back to love and listening, and to power and justice, as well.

That’s because the source of the Tillich quotation above is his book Love, Power, and Justice. The book’s subtitle is “Ontological Analysis and Ethical Applications,” and chapter headings include “The Ontology of Love,” “Being as the Power of Being,” and “A Phenomenology of Power.” Sounds rather deep, no?

Here’s the relevant passage about love and listening (with my own emphasis added). In it, Tillich is discussing “the relation of justice to love in personal encounters.” He writes that it

can adequately be described through three functions of creative justice, namely, listening, giving, forgiving. In none of them does love do more than justice demands, but in each of them love recognizes what justice demands. In order to know what is just in a person-to-person encounter, love listens. It is its first task to listen. No human relation, especially no intimate one, is possible without mutual listening. Reproaches, reactions, defenses may be justified in terms of proportional justice. But perhaps they would prove to be unjust if there were more mutual listening. All things and all men, so to speak, call on us with small or loud voices. They want us to listen, they want us to understand their intrinsic claims, their justice of being. They want justice from us. But we can give it to them only through the love which listens.

To be honest, much of Tillich’s writing is over my head. It’s not that I don’t grasp what he’s saying in this passage, it’s when he does things like explore the concept of being that I lose ground. I had to look up ontological. I found out it means “metaphysical, or the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence,” but you already knew that, right?

So where does this leave us? For me, it’s back to where we started. We still have the popular “quotation,” and I don’t think it will be replaced by the real thing any time soon. It’s nearly accurate and it’s Twitter-sized, with plenty of room to spare for hashtags. Now when I hear it I’ll still imagine those people sharing a conversation over coffee, but while their mugs will say, “The first duty of love is to listen,” next to those mugs will be some books whose titles I don’t quite understand.

[To see why a blog about cross-cultural issues is interested in the topic of listening, go here.]

(Arne Unhjem, “Paul Tillich: American Theologian and Philosopher,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Brett McCracken, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, Baker, 2010; Paul Tillich, Love, Power, and Justice: Ontological Analysis and Ethical Applications, Oxford, 1960)

[photo: “Rayon de Soleil,” by Dominique Garcin-Geoffroy, used under a Creative Commons license]

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