What’s the difference between a vacation and a pilgrimage? A roadtrip to see extended family and stepping somewhere sacred? So much of it has to do with our own mindset about what we’re doing in the first place. ‘Tis the season for summer travel, and after a year-plus of pandemic-tide, so many of us are itching to get the heck outta dodge. Seth & Tsh explore what it means to travel sacramentally — whether you’re flying internationally or driving the next town over.
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Seth: Welcome to A Drink With a Friend.
Tsh: And I’m Tsh Oxenreider.
Seth: Tsh, tell me what you are drinking since we are always drinking with friends.
Tsh: We are, that sounds weird.
Seth: It does sound weird, but it’s true.
Tsh: It is true. It’s my daily coffee, so nothing fancy but it’s the stuff I like. We’re recording just after lunch. My cut-off is really soon on caffeine so I’m chugging it down while I can. It’s rainy and gray here and it has been here for a while, which I like, especially at summer in central Texas, I’ll take it. But it does make me sleepy. It is just my Ethiopian stuff from the grocery store but it’s really well made, it’s an heirloom variety so it has the blueberry, jasmine hint.
Seth: Oh man.
Tsh: It’s my go-to favorite and it’s not too expensive and the brand is Cafe Creole, we have it at our HEB here so if you’re in Texas, maybe look it up.
Seth: HEB. They make another appearance on the podcast, just always popping up here.
Tsh: They show up a lot here. In life and on podcasts. How about you? What are you drinking?
Seth: I am probably doing something that is sacrilegious and desacralizing my body all at the same time. I am drinking Pepsi Zero. I’m not sure if it’s called Pepsi Zero or Pepsi Zero Sugar. It says Pepsi then under it says zero sugar but it has a zero in the branding.
Tsh: Is it Diet Coke equivalent because I don’t know anything about soda?
Seth: Why is the question, right? I think it is a Coke Zero equivalent and so I decided to try it to see if it is different than Coke Zero and I haven’t even had my first taste yet, so I’m just going to do it live here on the show.
Seth: Hmmm. It’s terrible.
Tsh: Is there a difference between Coke Zero and Diet Coke? I have no idea.
Seth: One has less chemicals than the other and I’m not sure which one. Both of them are chemically terrible for you and probably cause cancer and poison rats. One I think is supposed to be better because it has aspartame versus I don’t know, stevia or something? I don’t know. It’s just a different chemical sweetener.
Tsh: You know what? It’s okay that you are drinking soda. We’re not legalistic here.
Seth: We’re not legalistic but it’s not okay because I just had a taste of it and it’s terrible.
Tsh: This sounds legalistic and I don’t mean it to, it’s just I haven’t drank a soda in probably a decade because I’ve lost the taste for it. I’m not a purist. I get that there are times and places to drink soda. I can’t stomach the taste. If I drank that during an episode, I would probably throw up afterwards.
Seth: I’m probably not going to drink much more of it, to be honest. This might be the first Drink With a Friend where I had a drink and that was it.
Tsh: Okay. A Sip With a Friend.
Seth: It’s probably going to be A Sip With a Friend.
Seth: If anyone here likes Pepsi Zero, I’m terribly sorry. It’s not my jam. Neither is Coke Zero, neither is Diet Coke, really. Neither is really anything that is a Cola flavored beverage.
Seth: Tsh, what are we talking about today? Tell me what we’re talking about.
Tsh: At the time of this recording, it’s early summer at least in the northern hemisphere and I think a lot of us are thinking about travel, right? Not only because it’s summertime and if we have kids it’s the easiest time to travel but also it is, I hate to say the end of the pandemic because who knows anything, right? But at least here in the U.S. numbers have gone down substantially enough to where it feels relatively safe to travel with caution. I don’t know about you but I am itching to get the heck out of dodge.
Tsh: I miss it. Do ya’ll have travel plans this summer as a family?
Seth: We do. We had originally decided to stay closer to home because I don’t know if you’ve noticed this but since everything has opened back up it seems like prices of places to stay have skyrocketed.
Tsh: Yes, they have. And car rentals are impossible to find, flights are bloated in price. Yeah.
Seth: This is not just us, it’s a real thing?
Tsh: It’s a real thing in the industry. It stinks.
Seth: We were looking to go to the beach because it’s kind of what we do, Amber is a beach person. I’m a mountains person but she normally wins and so we were looking to go to the beach and we could not find anything that was in the typical price range that we go for and so we booked a place that was close to town in the Ozarks here on the Buffalo River, which if you’ve never been to the Buffalo River, it is an amazing, beautiful National Park. In fact, it is the first, I did not know this until quite recently, is the first National River in the country. It’s the first National Park based around a river. It’s a gorgeous place, one of our favorite places to play and we had booked this little place whether it’s through Vrbo or Airbnb, I don’t really remember. We had booked that and Amber found a little place on the beach that was affordable so we reoriented as of yesterday. Yes, we are traveling. We are going to the beach in Alabama on the Gulf and then we’ll go up and see her family, she’s an Alabama girl so we’re traveling to vacate and then traveling to see family, and then we’ll make the big circle back home.
Tsh: What kind of drive is that for you, from northwest Arkansas to Gulf Shores?
Seth: It is a jaunt. I think it’s like twelve hours or something? From there to her folks’ house is four hours and then back home is another ten hours, nine or ten hours. It is no small amount of driving. We always have fun. We like road tripping together. It’s fun times. Are you guys traveling? I can’t imagine Tsh Oxenreider and Kyle Oxenreider not traveling the very second that travel is opened up.
Tsh: Yeah, we both feel like we’re missing half an arm, we don’t feel like ourselves just because we haven’t traveled in so long. We are actually road tripping as well. We’re going to save, we’ve got some miles built up for flying but we’re going to use those in the fall, we think. Our kids have a fall break in school usually off the calendar when other schools do so we’re hoping to find better flights. We’re going to fly in the fall but we are going to road trip this summer. We have a long road trip as well, we go up to Oregon. From Texas, that’s several days. However, our big change, whatever you want to call it, we just recently bought a new-to-us travel trailer. It’s a pop-up, so it’s not, we didn’t prefer a pop-up but we also preferred not having to buy gas-guzzling, huge truck to haul it so we figured this was the middle road where we can use our regular family car to pull and it’s a really big pop-up. It has enough room for all of us. It’s really nice and well taken care of. I say all of this because we tend to camp on our way up to Oregon because we discovered once you get past Abilene, Texas it stops being so dang-gum humid and buggy. That’s when camping in the summer becomes fun again. To me, anything east of that just feels sticky all the time. To me, the eastern United States, it’s better to camp in the spring and fall but the west is best during the summer because it’s just so dry and it cools down at night so even if it’s hot in the middle of the day you don’t hurt somebody. We just mosey our way up and mosey our way back down. We are still making plans on what to do as we mosey. There are so many things that we still have not done. If you think of all the National Parks between Texas and Oregon, depending on the route you take, there’s more than you could ever possibly do. We think we’re going to do Redwoods this time.
Seth: Oh, wow.
Tsh: Yeah, which we have not done and it feels sacrilegious to wave at the exit as we drive past it on the way to Oregon. We think we want to actually pull over and spend a few nights. That’s mostly the plan.
Seth: That sounds incredible. Have you and Kyle ever done the Redwoods before? Ever seen them before.
Tsh: No, actually. Have you?
Seth: No. In fact, I was in San Fransisco, years ago. We had some free time that we could opt to go to Napa or the Redwoods and at the time, I was still drinking quasi-heavily so we choose Napa, obviously.
Tsh: Sure. I’ve been to Napa and I get it. It’s beautiful there, too.
Seth: It’s gorgeous, absolutely.
Tsh: Honestly, the reason we haven’t is simply because we have been slowly checking our way through so many other things to see through Utah and Moab and Arches and Glacier and Yellowstone. There’s so much to do on the way that this is Redwood time. A fun thing is our oldest is going to fly up early to spend extra time with the grandparents so I think we’re just going to gun it up, meaning not do the Redwoods on the way, we’re going to do it on the way back so she can be with us. I think that’ll be really nice. We’ve already spent the family time which we’re eager to do because it’s been a few weeks, I mean, a few weeks? It’s been a few years since we’ve seen that side of the family. After a few weeks with family, it will just be nice to spread out among really big trees and just be. We’re eager.
Seth: Totally, that sounds awesome. We’re talking a little bit about the sacramentality of travel or maybe the way we see God in all things including travel. I know that you, is expert a strong word? I think you’re an expert on several things and this is one where I think that you have developed some expertise and I just want to learn from you. This is one of those episodes where I think I’m the interviewer and you’re the interviewee, you’re going to be the expert professor here today. How do you feel about that? Is that okay?
Tsh: I can be an expert for half an hour.
Tsh: We can pretend.
Seth: Totally. But we’re not pretending, listeners. She is the real expert. Tell me, you’ve written an entire book, At Home in the World, about traveling abroad and your experiences traveling. In fact, one of those fascinating things about that book to me now that we’re talking about this, is how you talked, was it in Chiang Mai where you connected with the spiritual director?
Tsh: I did, yeah.
Seth: Isn’t that amazing that I remember that? That’s how memorable your book is.
Tsh: It is weird.
Seth: There is this moment in that book, and I don’t know if it’s expressly written this way, that’s where my memory fails me, where you realize that this travel for the sake of travel is not enough. It’s somehow a little more stressful, a little busier than you thought so you go and find this spiritual director and you start walking through talking through some of these things, there’s got to be a bigger purpose than this travel, right? I think over the course of the year, throughout that book, you see it play out that way. Then over course of years, you’ve really developed some expertise on why travel is important, why travel is important to us not just because it’s fun but as a spiritual practice. Tell me a little bit about that. First of all, why did you go to the spiritual director while you were in the middle of a world travel program and what did you learn from that experience?
Tsh: We spent six weeks in Thailand and that was enough time when we parked for us to do a little soul care because what we found on this trip, for those who don’t know, and that’s fine, we spent a school year backpacking around the world and we went to thirty different countries. That sounds like a lot and that’s because it was but what we did was we did a lot of whirlwind, fast travel followed by parking and doing slow, restorative travel. This was one of those moments where we just stopped for a while. I wanted to meet with someone who, she was American, so she understood an ex-pat mindset. She understands the value of just being somewhere else. I knew I didn’t already have to unpack that idea or explain it. I also wanted someone, because of the nature of the weird work that we do and perhaps what I did even more then than I do now, I wanted someone who had some distance from that who could actually see with perspective the ridiculousness of American Christianity or western Christianity and the bloated internet perspective or emphasis, I suppose. In other words, she wasn’t impressed by much which was good. I met with her several times just to unpack where do I belong in the world, where do I fit in regards to my work, and why do I do what I do? That’s ultimately the question that turned out the whole trip was about and more poignantly perhaps of where do I belong? She really helped me unpack the idea of belonging and home and why we do what do. The combination of that and the intersection of having some spiritual direction with travel helps me really unpack this idea. I don’t know about you. I was very middle class. We didn’t go on a lot of big high-faluting trips as a family. I equated travel with either something that was not for me because it was privileged, like some form of privileged escapism, or as a Christian, it needed to be “missional” or you go on a trip but with the idea of how can I help here? Did you have that at all or is that my weird baggage?
Seth: 100%. I think anybody who was raised in any church setting in the 70s, 80s, or 90s probably has that exact same baggage. Again, for those of you listening who aren’t acquainted with that sort of upbringing, this was the age where people were still calling things crusades, and trying to go out and save souls was your regular thing. The regular idea. Yeah, we would go to wherever it was. Whether it was Matamoros or Arizona or sometimes Chicago. I think one time I think I went to Chicago. The idea there was just to find places where you could help. It wasn’t just to get to know the people, or get to eat the food or get to experience the culture and see what you can find as you explore, it was more like, go there and figure out how you can save the community, save the people, save whatever. It was a very conquering mindset, I guess.
Tsh: Yep, that’s a great word to put it because that’s essentially what I believed, too. We did do things like occasional ski trips as a family but there was still a churchiness to it. The trip reminded me, as I did some unpacking, this was honestly when I really started dipping my toe into the idea of more of a historic, ancient church because when you travel, you can’t help but see, wow, there’s a lot more to the idea of being a Christian than what is on the suburban street corner in America. I started unpacking some of that and this was such a head smack because I knew this but I didn’t really connect with this, people have been taking pilgrimages since humans have existed. Pilgrimages essentially are trips to specific places for a meaningful journey to something sacred. If pilgrimages are meaningful journeys to sacred places, what does that look like? Does sacred need to be Mecca or Jerusalem or Rome, or can it be this coffee shop in the middle of nowhere? Someone’s living room? The woods? A beach? This is what I really started learning post-Chiang Mai, this idea of what does it mean to be on a meaningful journey to somewhere sacred, and perhaps what does God want to show me through that? If I’m not here to “serve,” if I’m here to be a person, from that I learned about the idea of when you make travel a form of a pilgrimage, not pilgrimage like a proper noun, almost more like your posture, then it becomes an act that’s good for your soul and it draws you closer to God and it makes you a better human. Those three things. That’s what I’ve come to really lean into and unpack more specifically. I bet you have too and I bet most people have as well. If anybody is thinking about a previous trip as they’re listening and they’re nodding their head in agreement, that was more than just a trip, that was a form of a pilgrimage, you know what I mean.
Seth: What were those three things again?
Tsh: The idea that travel is good for your soul, travels draws you closer to God, and travel makes you a better human if you let it. That to me is what turns a trip into a pilgrimage, those three things.
Seth: That’s really good. I remember the first time I experienced anything like that. I had a friend who was doing some subsistence farming in Northern Mozambique. He’s my college roommate, we went to a small, private and of course he went there with this idea of missions. That very quickly shifted for him and the shift to there was more of how could I be here and try to tend to souls when people are starving? His idea shifted from tending to souls to tending to dirt and just getting to know the people. It was a really beautiful way of being. I went out to visit him and I remember going out there and thinking, I don’t really know what this is about but what I know for a fact is that I’m not going to serve anyone, I’m not going to save anyone, I’m not going to do anything other than hang out with my friend in Northern Mozambique who I hadn’t seen in years and needed a buddy to come visit him and I needed to get out of town and go visit him. I remember meeting the people of that village, they’ve left an impression on me forever. We hoed some rows together, not as a service but just because he had to do so that’s what I did. There was a point where there was a cow that had this mange disease and we had to wrestle a cow to the ground and put some topical ointment on him. It was not a glamourous trip. I remember coming back from that and being so full and I didn’t leave anything with those people. In fact, they left everything with me. I remember just thinking that there was something about my view of the world that shifted in that moment. There was something about my view of African poverty that shifted in the moment. It wasn’t like it was shown on TV with the flies in the eyes and all that b.s. It was actually like people were really happy to be with each other and serve each other and do the best they could to make it through their lives as a community that was extremely joyful. I just came back thinking, that is such a human way to live life and so beautiful and so much more than if I had gone to, say, hey, I’m going to go deliver these Bibles to them or whatever it is that I would have done in my early teens with my church upbringing.
Tsh: How old were you?
Seth: Fourth year of the legal practice, 2008, is when I went. I would have been thirty-one.
Tsh: That’s a good time to have an experience like that.
Seth: It was a shift for me from viewing people as things to be served and to viewing people as people, who wanted to get to know me because I was different and I wanted to get to know them because they were different. In that, you just experience something that feels a lot more relational and a lot more spiritual.
Tsh: I would say, when you have that pilgrimage mindset, you can have that same kind of experience whether you’re visiting a friend in Africa or going on a road trip just an hour away with your family. I think the reason is because travel forces us to be more in the present than when we’re at home just checking things off our to-do list. It forces us to be present because we can’t not be. We’re sitting in the car, we don’t have much to do except be with our kids and what are you going to do? You’re going to talk. You’re going to listen to an audiobook. You’re going to do something of that nature that really can tend to your soul. I don’t know about you but I’ve had some of the best conversations on road trips.
Seth: Every time!
Tsh: I think there’s a reason for that. I think travel also forces you to slow down which is especially true for us Americans. If we go cross-culturally or overseas, you’re going to be forced to go so much slower than you normally do but I think that can be even when we travel within our own state. You just live a little slower. It takes time to get someplace. You gotta get set up. You’re somewhere different and just normal life slows down and I think we need that. Not think, I know we need that so much more than we realize.
Seth: When you’re traveling, how is it that you tend to those three categories? Do you carry those around with you consciously or is it something that just happens? How do you go about approaching travel as a pilgrimage?
Tsh: It’s both conscious now because I’ve unpacked it but it’s not conscious in that I sit there with those ideas as though I’m creating my own personal PowerPoint in my head. I still want to be fully present wherever I’m at so I’m going to enjoy the moment. For me, it’s a lot of being off-screen. I do my best to limit my screen time when we travel. Sometimes it’s forced on you when you’re going through a dead zone on a long road trip, you have to. You’re sitting on a plane, you’re in airplane mode, literally. Being off a screen certainly helps because when we look at a screen, there are definitely good reasons to do that. You need maps, you need to look up a place to stop for lunch, whatever. Whenever we’re at a beautiful place or we’re at someplace different and yet we’re on Instagram scrolling and looking at other people’s perhaps literal trips at the moment, we are forcing our brains to disengage from our bodies. When we disconnect, we miss out on the here and now and therefore the sacramentality of what we’re doing, to begin with. Because travel provides such a good sensory awakening, there are new things to look at, new smells, new sounds, even new touches in a way, you miss out on that if you’re always on your phone. I have learned from experience to put away my phone as best I can. When we were on a longer trip, I used my phone mostly as a camera yet we also brought a DSLR for that reason so that we felt like I’m using this piece of technology for capturing photos not to mindlessly scroll and that helped. Putting away the phone. My go-to here in normal life is to listen to music or have an audiobook going but actually disengaging from that or disconnecting from that really helps. What do you do? Do you use your phone a lot when you travel?
Seth: I do and I probably should not. Again, we’ve talked about this before, I’m terrible with my phone and I work really hard to not be.
Tsh: It happens.
Seth: It does. I remember when we were in Italy and I don’t actually remember if it was you or if it was the tour guide but somebody had brought up this idea when we were going to see the David, that if you look at the crowd, most people will be looking at the David through the phones. This was years ago, too. Before the ubiquity of all of these really high-tech phones. Was that five, six years ago?
Tsh: It’s almost seven.
Seth: Seven years ago. But still, you would go in and everybody was on their phone looking up, holding it as a camera, which was interesting, and then everybody who didn’t have their phone up using it as a camera was using their DSLR or point and shoot. I actually think that that’s okay to the extent that you’re simply using it, like you said, as a camera. You’re taking the photo for later and going to come back to it and then you spend some time in the presence of the art or in the presence of the food, or in the presence of the people. People weren’t even paying attention. They were scooting on by so they could snap their quick pic with the David and get on. There’s something about that that fills that you’re desacralizing someone else’s art and someone else’s effort and this wonder of the world because you want your quick pic and move on. I think part of my practice has been as I travel is to try to yes, take the photo. Grab the photo, get it, edit it later, do whatever you want to do. But also, once you do that, stop and spend some time really contemplating what you’re looking for and really making a memory not through the lens but through your body.
Tsh: Right. Taking photos can be a form of art and appreciating the moment because it is an art form. You know this better than me. I’ve also personally experienced the fact that there are millions of people who have taken better photos of the said amazing item than I have. I will take a photo so long as it aids in my experience and then when I put it away, I can trust that there are tons of photos out there that I can enjoy for the specificity when I think of the David. I took a few photos to mark my times but there are lots of zoomed-in pictures we can then look at with the veins, the details of Michelangelo. The Eiffel Tower is literally the most photographed landmark in the world. It’s the most Instagrammed landmark in the world. Your taking it is not going to necessarily add to the collection that is already out there. Take it to mark your time but not to capture something that hasn’t been captured a million times and probably better from some other people. That’s my take.
Seth: I don’t disagree with that with the caveat that if you are a photographer, take your time. Take your time to get a good photograph. Take something that you can edit later if that’s your art form or one of your art forms. Don’t waste that. When are you going to get back to the Eiffel Tower? I think if I were going to the Eiffel Tower tomorrow, I would actually block some time out and say, Amber, I’m going to be looking through my camera a lot for this next thirty minutes, just because it’s a form of art that I appreciate and enjoy. Otherwise, take it to mark the time and then move on from your phone, not from the place.
Tsh: I remember the last time I was at the Eiffel Tower, I purposely took unconventional angles. I took them while I was up there of the sides walking up the stairs, interesting angles that people forget because they just want to take the big, several hundred feet away view. I think another way that travel is sacramental is that it draws us closer to God by reminding us of our smallness and how little we matter but in a good way, if that makes sense. It’s so easy to become myopic, we all do this, we’re at the center of our own universes and we forget how many seven billion universes there are in that way. When you rub shoulders with people, be it through an airport when you’ve got a connecting flight or at a diner you’ve never been to before and there are all these locals that you’ll never see again, it reminds you of all the stories in the world. Whenever we are driving and we’re going in between towns, I am endlessly fascinated by those farmhouses or one-stop-light towns where people live and I just think, what is life like here? And why does one live here? Not in a judge-y way, in a fascinating way. I think travel draws us closer to God through that because we’re reminded of what I’m called to do and where I live and who I serve and live among is just one tiny way of living. Does that make sense?
Seth: Absolutely. I think my last experience of this was in Santa Fe, we went to the cathedral there in downtown Santa Fe, which I know you have probably been to and it’s an amazing little site. It’s the cathedral of Saint Francis and I remember we passed this man and he was clearly a drifter of some sort. I don’t know if he was homeless but he certainly appeared to be. He had a backpack and some ratty sandals and he had taken his sandals off and he was massaging his feet. He was sitting by this massive statue of Saint Francis and we walked by and we got a little ways down and my oldest, with tears in his eyes said, “We need to go back and ask that guy if he needs anything. We need to offer him help.” Never turn your kids down when they say this, right? We went back and approached the man and said we’d like to give you something. This man looked at him and smiled and said, “I’ve got everything that I need. I have this massive statue, I have this fountain and the birds are coming, I have this book that I’m reading and I have some food in my backpack. I really appreciate it but I don’t need your money. I don’t need anything.” He had chosen to live this way and it was a beautiful way for him to live and it was just another experience of the human life that is not what we’ve chosen that is really dependent on God as his way in the world and it was really beautiful. I felt really small. He didn’t set out to make us feel small but just his life choice made us feel like we are “inpuding” something on to him that he actually doesn’t need. I think it’s these little things. It’s not just the Grand Canyon that makes me feel small or this cathedral makes me feel small but it’s the little experiences with others you have along the way who’ve chosen very different lives that can sometimes make you feel really small in a beautiful, good way.
Tsh: I think it’s okay to feel small. I don’t think it’s disparaging. I think we’re all small and it’s just a matter of whether we choose to recognize it. I think we think that we are more important than we are.
Tsh: It’s good to be reminded that we are not that important in the big scheme of things and yet God chooses to interact our lives with other people and use us in weird ways. There is that. I’m not saying life is pointless. I’m saying simply, we’re all small and it’s good to remember that.
Tsh: I would also argue that travel is sacramental because it makes us better humans and I’ll bet you people listening right now can understand this perhaps more resolutely because you might not love travel. Perhaps you’re listening to this and thinking, oh my gosh, it is so much work. All the packing and my kids whine and it’s expensive. I would argue that travel makes us better humans because it does just that. It cultivates patience with the people we love the most and yet are also probably most irritated by. We have to cultivate patience with ourselves. I don’t know about you but I get annoyed at my own self and I can escape myself. Then we have to cultivate patience with other cultures, whether they are literally different cultures politically like we’re in a different country or just a different way of life in a different city that perhaps is different than what we’re used to. We just have to be more patient and I would argue that those are good things even if in the moment they don’t feel good.
Seth: Yeah. How do you cultivate that patience when you’re on a road trip and you begin to hear, are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet?
Tsh: Right. We have a general family rule called Asked and Answered. We use that a lot, even at home to where it forces our kids to, well, it doesn’t always work. That’s okay because they are on a journey. We’ll say, Asked and Answered whenever we’ve already answered the question. If someone asks, “Are we there yet?”, and it’s been several hours since they’ve asked. What they really mean is how much more time? Literally, we’re clearly not there yet. We’ll say, we’ve got 200 miles more to go. Kyle, he’s funny. He is so good at spatial reasoning. He doesn’t quite understand that those of us like me don’t quite understand what 200 miles feels like but he really likes the idea of travel being a tool to help educate our kids in this department. He will then say something like, notice the time and the sun and where it is. Hold out your hand. How many more fingers until the sunsets so, therefore, how much time has been passed. Think about what I said about 200 miles and what do you think? If we’re asked again, “Are we there yet?” we’ll just say asked and answered. I get it’s easier when the kids are older. When you have a two-year-old they don’t care if that’s been asked and answered. I know. For me, it’s helpful to remember that travel is easier the more you travel. You might feel like it’s a suicide kamikaze mission to take a two-year-old to visit the grandparents across two states and it might be miserable but just keep in mind that this isn’t all there is and I promise you in two years it will get easier and in two years it’ll get even easier because they are getting used to this. Our kids, by the end of the trip, a lot of people will frequently say, “I can’t believe you did this with three kids nine and under because my kids are terrible travelers.” I’ll say, the reason my kids are good travelers is because we travel. It’s not like they are equipped with some special gifts or something. It just becomes the normal. I would say the same for us. Whenever we have that same, “I can’t believe we are still driving,” we don’t act as though I can’t believe we’re so impatient with ourselves. Traveling to Oregon is really long and that’s okay. To give ourselves permission to be human, does that make sense?
Seth: Yeah. I know you’ve led groups on different trips, internationally, locally, and I know that you have probably butted up against the patience issue not just with children but with full-grown adults.
Seth: How do we cultivate that even as adults? When you travel anywhere, I don’t know if you ever travel, well, actually I do know that you have traveled to East Africa. When you traveled anywhere in Africa that they talk a lot about African time. The locals will talk about African time and just say, “Hey, I’ll meet you at 10:00,” which may mean 9:00 or maybe 1:00. I’ve been with people who’ve been extremely frustrated by that. How do we cultivate a sense of patience that’s not just patient with the drive time but that actually recognizes that culturally speaking, time is a relative concept?
Tsh: [laugh] There’s actually a lot of cultural things like that that we realize that my definition of time is different than probably most anywhere around the world. I guarantee you that concept of time has been true in most of the non-western countries I’ve been to, for example. Same with waiting in lines. We love lines in the U.S. and we think there is one way to make a line which is single file. The person in front of you is next and the person behind is after you. That is our assumption about lines. Many, many cultures around the world do not have that assumption. It is a survival of the fittest with lines. Just because you were in front of that person, that does not mean they will not just push you out of the way and be next and it’s culturally acceptable. I say all of that as an example because that is something that I find more than the slowness that ruffles my American sensibilities more than just about anything else. It’s funny. We become like children in some ways when we travel. It’s easy to scoff at the kid asking are we there yet? But how often do we do that as adults? Right?
Tsh: I think the two things that have helped me and I say this because I’m still working on it, it’s not like I’ve arrived, is recognizing it instead of pretending like it’s not there. I might recognize it literally. I might turn to Kyle and say, we are in a line and yet this person behind us just cut in front. That is really frustrating to me. Or we’re waiting for a bus and the schedule on the wall says the bus should be here. It’s been fifteen minutes, it is not here. Acknowledging that, to me, goes a long way. It’s diffusing my expectations because I’m vocalizing and I am recognizing that this is my perspective and it’s only one perspective. That sounds trite, I realize. It almost feels trite because I might be saying it through gritted teeth. Somehow just acknowledging it, just like acknowledging when you’re stressed or sleepy or hungry, does make it just a little bit better. It’s in the same way. Secondly, I think if we just remember long term, when we travel, even when it’s the next town over, we’re mostly going to learn. We are going as visitors, as literal visitors. If we are going, even if we’re on a “mission trip” to make things better wherever we are, we’re still visitors and we are there to learn. To remember that because it’s a trip, it’s temporary. We’re not there to say this is how my life is going to be from now on. To recognize that with a learner’s posture you can go a long way to realizing, in my mind, the cut off for the amount of people that should be on the subway should have ended two stops ago and yet in China, it is still being crammed full of people, huh. That is not my favorite. My favorite is not smelling this person’s armpit right in my nose with nowhere to move, this is not cool. Recognizing it and remembering I’m here to learn and this is temporary goes a long way but that doesn’t mean you’ll ever arrive. I think that’s one of the beauties of travel. What makes it so sacramental is it forces us to depend on God even if it’s vacation. We really do. It’s not perfect on purpose.
Seth: With that being said, as we wind down this conversation, tell me as we consider things like a vacation to the beach or to the mountains, maybe not international travel yet. Maybe a vacation to go see your parents. Tell me how can I and how can the listener use it, or how can we posture ourselves in that vacation so that it becomes pilgrimage?
Tsh: I could talk another hour about this so I’ll just do the shorthand version. How to turn a trip into a pilgrimage, right? One really practical way is to pack less than you think you need. How often do we end up packing what we think is our entire wardrobe and then we wear the same three t-shirts the entire time?
Tsh: Pack half as much as you think you need. If you like most, 99% of the world, if you end up without something that you need, you can go get it. Toothpaste is all over. There is a sacramental beauty to living with less. It makes it really embodied, it reminds us of our physicality whenever we are literally choosing the same three t-shirts. It turns out that was one of my favorite parts about our big long trip, by the way. Side note. I loved only having a few things and carrying everything I owned for a year. Even for a weekend. Pack way less than you think you need to. I would say, depending on your situation, if you have a little kid or something, pack something that marks your identity as a clan where you are and still do that thing.
Seth: Oh, that’s good.
Tsh: For some families, if you have a toddler, that might literally look like a beloved stuffy or a book like a bedtime ritual or something like that. You still do that at the place. You still do that wherever you are and it makes that connection of your identity with a place so that you don’t feel, you still feel like a foreigner but you feel like you belong in that place a little bit more and that you haven’t changed completely as a person. If you’re not traveling with kids I would say the same goes for you as a person. Get something really tangible and granular like a rock to keep in your pocket, prayer beads, a notebook, and a pencil that you can mark your place-ness in that place or the time you’re there so that you can remember it later. We’re sensory people. If you’ve got prayer beads in your pocket and you’re looking at this museum and there’s a crowd all around you and you feel like this is a tourist trap, by fingering those prayer beads in your pocket you will connect your body to that place and months later you’ll say, oh my gosh, I was in the Louvre. That’s pretty remarkable.
Seth: Right. That’s good.
Tsh: Always have a book as well. Maybe I’m biased that way but books do the same thing. Perhaps pick a work of fiction set in the place where you’re going. That’s always fun. I tried to do that on our trip. I read All the Light You Cannot See in France. That really connected it. Don’t put pressure on yourself. You don’t need to read some heavy tone about the history of the place if that’s not you. Be you still in that. Those are probably my short-hand suggestions to make it more sacred and more sacramental.
Seth: I love that. I also love that you read All the Light You Cannot See in France. That makes me a little bit jealous, I’m not going to lie.
Tsh: It was great. I recommend, five out of five stars. Do it if you can.
Seth: I love this idea. I love these embodied practices that remind us that we are on a pilgrimage, not just an escape. This is not escapism. This is not necessarily about any of those old buzzwords that you heard growing up like mission or service. I think approaching life in general as a pilgrimage even if you’re not traveling is really, probably a little bit more sacramental way to live your life. To always be looking for God on the path, on the journey as you make your way from one place to the next. I also just want to say, I cannot recommend At Home in the World enough if you want to dig into this idea and see how it played out in Tsh’s life. She did not pay me to say this.
Tsh: I did not, but thank you so much.
Tsh: It’s true. Even if you can only armchair travel this summer, you are still going to be at home and you just got books or whatever, keep in mind if God created the world and if therefore God’s fingerprints are all over it then every place is sacred.
Seth: That’s right.
Tsh: Because by definition, God’s creating it. Your living room, your couch, can be sacramental. That’s important to remember.
Seth: I love it. Tsh, tell me as we transition, in your pilgrimage over this last week, what is one thing that you have been listening to, reading, or watching, or potpourri, this could be another category, that is bringing more truth, beauty, or goodness to your life?
Tsh: If you follow me on Twitter you saw that I asked recently what is something right now that’s good to stream to watch that’s family-friendly but not made as family-friendly. I think people know what I mean. If you’ve ever watched a show that’s made for families and you want to poke your eyeballs out with a fork, you know what I mean. I got some great ideas. We tried one just recently and I love it. It’s a new show on Netflix, it is called Sweet Tooth. Have you seen this?
Seth: No, but I’ve heard about it and it sounds amazing.
Tsh: Don’t let the name fool you because I thought this was like a bake-off show or what is Sweet Tooth about? Nothing like I thought it would be. First of all, it’s a DC Comic series, news to me. It is roughly about a dystopian world where all the children born after a certain time are hybrids between humans and some other animal. Sounds weird and it’s really good. We’ve watched only two or three episodes now but I cannot recommend it enough. I love finding a good show that adults and kids, my kids’ age anyway (11 and up), can watch. They are just in short supply. I highly recommend it. It’s great. I think we’re going to go through it pretty quickly probably by the next time we record we’ll have seen it all. I love it so far. Sweet Tooth.
Seth: That’s awesome. I want to watch it. We’re huge comic book fans in the Haines household which means I think my kids will be fairly excited about it but we haven’t talked about it. Mostly because we’re counting down to Loki.
Tsh: We are, too. By the time this airs, it will have been out two days and we’ll probably have already watched a substantial amount. Same here. What about you? What is a thing you are reading, watching, or listening to that’s adding more beauty to your life this week?
Seth: I think we’ve talked about this before. I think I’ve actually used this before. I was thinking about this the other day. We record these once a week and it’s literally impossible to not have some overlap. There are going to be weeks where you’re still watching, reading, or listening to the exact same thing. That’s just going to have to be okay.
Tsh: And that’s okay.
Seth: At the beginning of Lent, I think I told you, I started reading back through T.S. Eliot’s poems and I was reading through Ash Wednesday. Now it’s been months since, we’re well past Easter. It’s been months, it’s been some time since I made my first way through Ash Wednesday. I read the last two installments again today. I just opened them up because I had an inkling about it. It’s just such beautiful work and it struck me as I was reading it today how layered it is, how earthy it is, how transcendent and spiritual it is but you never get the sense that Eliot is trying to somehow cordon off human being-ness from spirituality. I think a lot of times in modern Christianity or modern spirituality there is the idea of the sacred and the secular. There’s never a sense that Eliot’s trying to draw that distinction between the sacred and the secular. He’s certainly saying there are things that we do that are not optimal for our lives. We get stuck between the rocks, so to speak. We need the prayers from the yew tree, so to speak. There’s never this idea that there are these two fields and that we’re dancing in these two separate fields. It’s more of a journey through this life to the more transcendent field. I was just reading this morning and just struck by the idea that he’s really doing something in that poem that is super beautiful, it is showing a pilgrimage. A journey from one life to the other life through all the difficulty of the modern age, his modern age.
Tsh: As an English major in college, I read him and I didn’t appreciate him until I was older. Honestly, probably since my late thirties, didn’t really appreciate him. I think it’s for that reason. He’s very experiential. He himself, I think a lot of his writing was embodied from his personal experience in war and in relationships with other people and you can see that. I know exactly what you mean. He is a gift. Gosh, the older I get the more I appreciate T.S. Eliot.
Seth: Absolutely. Even just taking a month off and going back to it. We were talking last week, I think? Were we talking about the Requiem?
Seth: Yeah. Didn’t we talk about that last week?
Tsh: Dead people, yeah.
Seth: Just as you listen to the Requiem over and over again the older you get the more you find these new layers. It’s the same thing with T.S. Eliot, particularly that poem. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Tsh: Nice choice. I love it and I love that you are repeating something because what we’re saying is it’s okay to take your time with some of this stuff. We’re not consumers that just need to have something new and exciting every week to enjoy. We can revisit the same thing again and again.
Seth: Yep, that’s right.
Tsh: It is time to wrap this one up. You can find this episode as well as all episodes at adrinkwithafriend.com and if you like what we are bringing to your week, would you kindly go and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcast. For whatever reason, the better a show is reviewed, the more places like Apple and Spotify show it to potential new listeners. So if you’d like us to keep doing what we’re doing, you can help by leaving a quick review. We really appreciate it. You can find me and all my work, especially my newsletter and books, at tshoxenreider.com — Seth, where can people find you?
Seth: sethhaines.com, it’s all right there, one place.
Tsh: Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, editing is by Kyle Oxenreider, and Caroline TeSelle is our transcriber and assistant extraordinaire. I’m Tsh Oxenreider with Seth Haines, and we’ll be back here with you soon. Thanks for listening.
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What’s the difference between a vacation and a pilgrimage? A roadtrip to see extended family and stepping somewhere sacred? So much of it has to do with our own mindset about what we’re doing in the first place. ‘Tis the season for summer travel, and after a year-plus of pandemic-tide, so many of us are itching to get the heck outta dodge. Seth & Tsh explore what it means to travel sacramentally — whether you’re flying internationally or driving the next town over.