I’ve always felt that If you want to get the most out of the conferences you attend then you need to review your notes and stay in touch with people you’ve met. You can’t be best friends with everyone but it’s great to stay connected with the people you meet along the journey. When possible, I like to watch/listen the recordings of presentations I liked the most and every so often, I even check out the ones I didn’t connect with. It’s amazing how receiving content in a different context alters your perception and understanding.
You can’t think about everything you’ve heard, you can’t blog about everything you liked and though I wasn’t able to take many notes at the Justice Conference (anyone want to share yours with me?), I was able to for N.T. Wright’s presentation. Wow – how incredible was that – can’t wait until it’s released on video.
So deep and rich a presentation but the line that sticks out at me most is “If it’s real, it’s local.”
At first thought, it rings true. Then on second, I wasn’t sure if it was complete enough. After all, there are many things that occupy my mind that are not near to me at all and there are many things that are local to me, that are not that real to me, if I were being honest.
Much of our attention this week has been focused on Malyasia Airlines Flight 370. None of us know anyone on that flight, and it’s on the other side of the world. But it feels real. Many of us are focused on what’s going on in Ukraine but depending on your world, you might not know many people actually there. And we know this is real too.
On one level, we read/watch because in true sincerity, we want to be informed.
On another level, we sometimes watch because we want to be entertained (see Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman).
Then on another level, we read/watch but we are not connected in any way. Sometimes it’s because we are pre-occupied by trivial things, sometimes because our attention is focused on worthy things and sometimes they are dire.
There are probably quite a few more levels in between and beyond.
So what does N.T. Wright mean by “real” and “local” and secondly why does it feel so true?
Well, it certainly works on the relative sense, “If it’s real to you …” As I’ve been taking inventory on the things I care about, I can’t help but feel the subjectivity and the odd groupings. Among the things they have in common is simply that I have access to them.
For example, I am keeping a close eye on what’s going in Ukraine because a member of our pastoral staff has a daughter serving there in the education system. This is very local to me and therefore very real. If I am being honest, my awareness/interest would likely be a “step or two back” if my fellow pastor’s daughter was not there.
I don’t feel guilty about this, I feel human. Even when our posture is bent towards God and others, we only have the capacity to care for and so many things – may God be with us, may God with others. May we remember that we are not God.
But I think the more troubling thing for me is realizing how much is happening locally that does not feel as real to me/us. The things beyond our children, family, our church, our town and the towns next door all feel local and real. This is responsible, this is prudent, this is your little world. This is yet another needed growth area. I’ll save you the journal entry here but this is where the anxiety is: “How much more, these are long roads, will God really provide enough energy, time, resources for all the ‘extra‘ and what cost?”
I pray for Lowell, I pray for Egypt. But if I am honest, I don’t pray for Worcester, nor do I pray for Uruguay. No doubt both these cities/countries are filled with beautiful, amazing people doing great things and in need of great things. And while it pains me to write this, they are not “near” me. My hope is that these places are real and local to other prayerful/serving/loving types building the Kingdom in their respective corners.
This is how “If it’s real, it’s local” works for me today. And may it work for you and many more too. May we care, support, serve what’s near us whether it be near to our bodies, or near our hearts.