Traveling Mercies for the "Consummate Ass"

Whenever a friend returns from Florence or Venice or Rome, it inevitably happens. She publicly disavows herself from ever eating at the Olive Garden again. "Once you've had the real thing," she always says, " you just can't go back."

I always feel foolish when I unwittingly invite such a person for an evening of much-too-rich fettuccini Alfredo and way-overcooked-nothing-like-authentic linguini. If I gush over the gelato will she think me uncultured?

Mark Twain said this about traveling abroad: "We wish to learn all the curious, outlandish ways of all the different countries, so that we can show off and astonish people when we get home. We wish to excite the envy of our unraveled friends with our strange foreign fashions which we can't shake off. The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad."

I think it is much the same with spiritual journeys. Having recently "returned" from a long and difficult journey through doubt, I find myself reminiscing snobbishly about all the books I've read, all the edgy and intelligent questions I've asked, and all the exotic, complicated answers I've convinced myself I've found. Ask me anything about pluralism and I will wax eloquent. Suggest evangelism as a solution to Africa's problems and I will roll my eyes at your simplicity. Tell me you've done some traveling of your own and I will avert your gaze, worried you've been somewhere I haven't been. 

As with the literal traveler, I think such arrogance is just a way of glossing over how out-of-place and scared I felt when abroad, when perched on those high peaks and lost in those shadowy valleys.

Spiritual pride is always a temptation for the believer, and I sincerely hope it is avoided on this blog. No one's journey is the same. There is much to learn from one another. So instead, I would like this little spot on the Web to serve as a sort of traveler's forum, a place for exchanging adventure stories, survival tips, and those priceless hole-in-the-wall recommendations that make a journey memorable. I look forward to sharing my own ideas, and I look forward to hearing from you. 

So, in the spirit of humility, let us celebrate our wanderings, our little journeys without destinations--keeping in mind that even our most profound ideas are little more than dinners at the Olive Garden compared to the "real thing."

Twain continues, "I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad and therefore is not already a consummate ass. If the case be otherwise, I bet his pardon and extend to him the cordial hand of fellowship and call him brother. I shall always delight to meet an ass after my own heart when I have finished my own travels.

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