Eugene Peterson wrote a book called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction in 1980 (back before he was Eugene Peterson). In the book, he essentially lamented what he spoke of as a tourist approach to faith—the tendency to run all over and get a glimpse of everything but really understand nothing. The result was an experience that was a mile long and an inch deep.
One of my goals in returning to Romania was to see things at a deeper level. We would be going to the same place (Oradea) and seeing a lot of the same things, so I wanted to overcome any sort of touristy “been there, done that” sort of mentality so that I could take full advantage of the time we spend here.
So far it’s been easy.
And it’s not because I’ve successfully adopted a disciplined approach to seeing better. It’s simply because I don’t have to look far to see things I didn’t see two years ago—because they weren’t here. For example, the minister of the church here is now married to a lovely woman and they have a four-month-old son. Some members of the congregation here look the same, but some of them (i.e., the younger ones), have changed considerably. Then there’s the political situation. Romania’s president is facing an impeachment election at the end of the month. This, combined with the current EU economic crisis, has dropped the exchange rate of the lei to the dollar from 2.4 in 2010, to the current 3.7. That’s a difference that’s good for visitors but not for Romanians.
Then there have been some others things that have been different. We’re staying in a different room than we did last time so that tends to change your perspective. Our first day here we overloaded a fuse so I got to learn a little bit about how the building is wired. Today we ate at a restaurant that we hadn’t been to before. What we’re doing here is a little different than what we did last time.
All of this makes me wonder why in the first place I assumed things wouldn’t be much different. I suppose the answer is that even though change is always taking place, we tend not to notice a lot of it because it happens so incrementally. And that leads to being surprised when you go somewhere you haven’t been in awhile and although it’s really the same type of gradual change that happens where you live, it hasn’t been incremental to you so it catches your attention.
So maybe what I learn from coming to Romania a second time will be more helpful when we go back home. Maybe it’s not away from home that I need to be more alert and discerning. Maybe it’s in my own back yard.