A friend returns from vacation and tells you about this new place she has experienced, and to you–at this point in your life–its intrigue sounds captivating. You’ve always been more or less satisfied with where you’re from as it’s the only thing with which you’re familiar. But her stories make you notice things you never noticed before. Compared to the new place your friend has described, your homeland suffers from stifling air pollution and the scenery is pretty much blah. And, if your culture isn’t altogether boring–it is, for sure, crude and un-creative. Plus, if the stagnancy of the economy of this place you call home isn’t bad enough . . . the truth of what it is driven by when things are going “good” is even worse. Scary, actually. Truthfully, the more your soul replays the scenes and stories described by your friend–stories of exciting people, vibrant culture, beautiful scenery, and a healthy way of making a living–the more restless you feel.
One evening, your dinner is interrupted by four successive calls from telemarketers selling air filters for your home so you can breathe more easily on high-pollution days. This insanity is piggy-backed with several text messages and a couple of e-mails from people who are telling you how people are talking about you behind your back at work. (You bet if the truth was untangled, those giving you these “warnings” are probably in on the whole stupid brouhaha, too.) Something in you snaps. “That’s it! I’ve had it! I’m leaving!” your soul screams. “I’m going to start a new life in this new place my friend has told me about.”
So as each day passes, you more and more deliberately begin to imagine life in this new place. Gradually, you can see yourself there–and envision a better experience of life. By degree, your heart heats up to this thing your heart has been daring itself to do. Still, you vacillate for a while. Do you have enough faith to pack your suitcase and head to the border? Do you really trust your friend enough to make a move of this dimension? So, you share with her your dreams–and your doubts–and she says, “If you go, I’ll go with you. Ever since I first experienced it, I can’t stop thinking about it myself.” And that tips the balance. You sell your house and all your possessions. You keep just enough for the road that will take you there. And the two of you set off.
With some building apprehension, you approach the border. Signs begin to point out that you’re getting very near to this moment your heart has played out in its quiet recesses. You present your papers and declare yourself an immigrant. They ask you ONE SIMPLE QUESTION: “Do you wish to leave your past behind and start a new life? Do you believe there is something more?” When you reply to this with a hope-filled sigh of ‘Yes’ that (truthfully) is just as much a question as a statement, they issue you a passport–no further questions asked.
And then they recommend that you take a bath. [Really? Well . . . alright, you hesitantly agree.] They explain that people new to this way of life usually find it wise to wash off the soot and smell of their old homeland so they can fully appreciate their clean start. In fact, after your bath, they encourage you to smell your old clothes . . . because it will be the first time that you encounter the scent of your old life. [And they’re right.] You follow through on these few things they encourage you to do. And as you work your way through these things, it suddenly occurs to you that you are breathing in the fresh air of this experience. Your lungs feel as if you’re inhaling new life for the first time. It’s as if the air itself is inundated and alive with an oxygen of joy and purpose and love. You feel more alive than you ever remembering hearing was true of someone in your old land.
Now having finished this first stage of what you assume is your “customs” experience–you, your friend, and these handful of folks processing with you are standing there. There’s one of those uncomfortable pauses. [The first one you believe you’ve experienced here in your new home territory.] So you–like any sensible person–break the silence with an important question. You ask where you’re supposed to go to move into your new house or town or whatever/wherever people from this place live. And they sort of cock their head at you in a strange mixture of confusion and amusement: “People don’t live here. The city of your old land is where you live.”
You half-protest, half-ask, “But why would I want to go back there? I told you I LEFT THAT PLACE.” “No, our friend. We asked you if you wanted to leave YOUR PAST behind, not YOUR PEOPLE. We asked you if you believed that there ought to be something more than what your old life offered. And there is. Only, you’re bringing that fresh breath of reality back to those who don’t yet have it, too.”
With clean new clothes, a smell of freshness, your passport, and a little book, they shove you and your friend off. A few slow, reluctant steps back down the road, you look at your friend with a face that you never remember being able to form. (How you could furrow your brow, yet still be smiling perplexes you.) [You think to yourself: She knew I wasn’t moving to a new city, just that I would have a new sort of citizenship.] You realize that she didn’t trick you–and that’s why you’re smiling. But you also know that this is not what you expected–and that’s why your face is filled with questions. Lots of questions.
But before any of these questions are able to be articulated or answered, real life resumes quite quickly. It’s not long after you had set-off on your journey back “home” that you see your OLD city. Well . . . your . . . city. (It’s not old. It’s the same bustling place you just walked away from. And it’s not exactly yours–in that you are no longer FROM there, but it’s where you are supposed to be.) The closer you get, the greater everything returns to your view in a higher definition than you ever saw it with before you left. The smells, the frenetic pace, the choking air, the confusion, the poorly spent time, the misapplied priorities, the really bad “solutions” they were attempting. Mostly, you saw the people. For the first time.
In your re-encounter with of your city, your re-immersion stuns you with one mammoth conclusion: THESE EVERYDAY PROBLEMS OF PACE AND ENVIRONMENT AND PRIORITY AND HOPELESS SOLUTIONS ARE A RESULT OF ONLY ONE THING. They have never been beyond the borders of this place’s soul. They need to leave this culture before they’ll see it for what it really is. They need to encounter people who will help them smell it, feel it, recognize it, and then re-calibrate their life in light of it. This is normal to them–just like I once assumed. They have to taste what is REALLY real.
Like my friend helped me do.
They wouldn’t choke our air with pollution if they considered something beyond the borders of their bottom lines. They wouldn’t get hung-up on the wrong stuff if they traveled beyond the borders of the empty talk-show, pop solutions this city claims are the only ways of living. They wouldn’t be so confused, if they had a direction that genuinely engaged them with what’s most important. They need real friends who have been led beyond the borders of this place by their friends before them.
And it is just this moment, as this epiphany is taking shape in you, you remember that they had tucked a small book into your hand as your parting gift. Your friend sees this movement in your soul on your face, steers your eyes to meet hers, gives you this most amazingly holy grin you’ll never be able to erase from your memory, and taps that book in your hand twice with a thumping sound that captures your heart. She walks off with a contagious smile on her face–leaving you now, knowing that you will be together again very soon. For the next thing.
That thump that she had tapped into the little book keeps on resounding in that moment’s experience until you realize that its the throbbing of your excited heart. You jerk your head down and the book in your grip up.
What does that book say?
Much recognition needs to be given to Brian McLaren for the provocative parable he shared in his book, The Secret Message of Jesus (2006, p. 112-113). The beginning of his parable, which you saw represented in the opening environment of this allegory, provided a wonderful platform from which to share with you this more expanded one.