On Getting a Life (Keflavik, Iceland)

 Track 1: A New Life by Jim James (click to play, but don't get distracted. Come back and converse with me while it plays):

“Hey, open the door
I want a new life...”

I’m not even sure where to begin. Before this year, I had never been to any place outside of the U.S. besides the motherland: Jamaica. Even that was when I was a pre-teen. I’d never traveled the world, and it was becoming more than unfortunate. It was becoming problematic, unethical even.

Here's why:

First off, as a minister, people pay me to help them figure out how to live a good life. And an essential part of that job is talking about ultimate things: how to love well, how to know God, how to know the difference between right and wrong. The things I say and write shape the way other people view the world. That is a scary thought.

I, myself, have been struggling with the question of how any person can know how one “ought” to live. Who makes that decision? Even if you say that God decides, you still have to explain how you know what God’s decision is. If you say that God has revealed it in the Bible, you have to explain why your interpretation is superior to all of the others who disagree with you. I’m not saying this is an unanswerable question; I’m saying it’s not a simple conversation.

What is the preacher?

I’m reminded of a church service I attended last year, during a time in my life when I very much did not want to be at church--especially not on homosexuality Sunday. (They, of course, did not call it homosexuality Sunday. It just so happened to be during a time when many churches felt obligated to “take a stand” for or against homosexuality.) As the pastor delivered a very carefully thought out position, all I could think about is how quiet it was in outer space.

The universe is so vast--billions of light-years across, and growing--and this man is standing on some small rock in a cosmic ghetto in the margins of space, speaking about how it all is ultimately designed to be.

This is me, pretending to know things about the universe at Glenkirk Presbyterian Church in Glendora, California.

This is me, pretending to know things about the universe at Glenkirk Presbyterian Church in Glendora, California.

The preacher doesn’t have to speak as one who understands it all (even if her/his people would like for him/her to); but, my point is that, people like me are expected to have some type of informed opinion about how be a good human, and our only resource is really our perspective.

Something seemed wrong about me speaking to people about ultimate things, when I have only been a human being on American soil.

The tricky thing about perspectives is that we all have them, but we don’t always realize it. When we’re mostly surrounded by people who think like us, and share the same values as us, we start thinking that our perspective is the way most sensible people think--or at least they should. And because we think our perspective is “normal”, we can easily mistake American values for universal principles of being a good human being. I just started feeling like, to have any integrity as an influencer of other people, I needed to see a little more of the world.

Secondly, a part of my belief in God has led me to believe that life is a sort of adventure.

Adventure looks different for different people.

So, you don’t have to be an extreme sports junkie to be adventurous; but I do think life is best lived when we’re intentionally creating room in our lives for pleasure--that’s what adventure means to me.

The great adventure of my life has been chasing the dream of being a professional musician. I packed two bags and moved to New York with $80 in my pocket. I moved to LA to earn a master’s degree in Theology with less than I had when I moved to New York. And I’ve told the stories of those spontaneous, risky life-changing decisions a dozen times. They give people the impression that I’m a pretty interesting guy, meanwhile those stories are from years ago. My biggest adventures lately have been finding a new show to binge watch on Netflix or HBO GO. As much as I love watching Game of Thrones, I began to realize that I was only having adventures by escaping to Westeros or Gotham, thanks to Apple TV.

I needed my own adventure--a new one. I found myself periodically singing, somewhat anxiously those Jim James lyrics above about a new life, something like a prayer.

One day, I realized that after I graduated from seminary that I would have no obligations to be anywhere: I hadn’t found a job yet. I wouldn’t have to be in class. I have no wife, or family, or even a girlfriend. Perhaps I should take a trip.

For years, my friend Brittany and my dad hounded me about getting a passport. I did, four years ago, and had yet to get any stamps in it. Perhaps, now was the time. “What the heck!” I thought, "People dream of being able to travel the world, but eventually have too many commitments to do it." I knew I had a big check coming, and I decided I’d spend it on a trip: to Amsterdam, then to Rome, to Barcelona, then Paris, then London, and then back to the states.

I had always assumed that I didn’t have enough money to travel, but I found that between sites like Skyscanner and AirBnB, it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. I clicked a few buttons to book travel and lodging, packed my guitar with clothes (and my guitar of course), and boarded a plane to the other side of the world for the first time ever. And just like that, my new life began. I’m telling you, I had no clue what I was in for, and every step of the journey thus far has been profound, sometimes heartbreaking, and at times miraculous even. I’m gonna’ tell you all about it in the posts to come. For now, I want to leave those who have never taken a trip with this:

Babe, open the door
And start your new life
— Jim James

Whether you’ve traveled a lot or not at all, I’d love to hear from you. If you’re a travel vet, what do you love about traveling? If you’re a travel virgin, like myself, what’s stopping you from getting out there? Post your thoughts, whatever they may be, in the comments section below.