The Road Trip that Changed the World

Mark Sayers, The Road Trip that Changed the World: The Unlikely Theory that will Change How You View Culture, the Church, and, Most Importantly, Yourself (2012)

Below is the text from my speech at the Melbourne launch of this book.

29 June 2012

In homage to Jack Kerouac I had the intention to type this speech with a Hermes 3000 typewriter on an endless role of paper – but the girl at Officeworks looked confused when I made enquiries – so I just used a typwriter font.  Hope that’s ok.

Recently I heard about a conversation that went on between two young adult girls in my congregation – the kind of conversation that makes every young adult pastor shudder.  One of the girls, in her early 20s, had recently become a Christian and was full of the joy of the new life she has found in being a disciple of Jesus.  She is a baby Christian, still grappling with the meaning of the gospel, and learning about what it means to submit her life to the Lordship of Christ.  The other girl in the conversation, was also in her early 20s had grown up in the church and actively involved in ministry.  The new Christian had recently heard about what it means to submit her sexuality to Jesus.  She had learned about covenant and marriage, and about honouring God with your body.  To put it bluntly, she’d learned about “how far is to far.”  So wanting to understand more, she asked some questions of clarification to her more experienced sister in Christ.  To which her more experienced sister said, “oh don’t worry about sex before marriage, “they” always teach us the conservative line because they have to – that’s just the church’s official line.  But no one takes it seriously.”

At this point, the new christian girl was confused, and disappointed, and by the grace of God she came to her mentor and said, “but I don’t get it? One of the reasons I was atracted to becoming a Christian is because I thought Christians lived differently to my other friends.  But it seems like they are no different.”  To which her mentor clarified that her friend’s advice was completely wrong.

Now this is just one isolated anecdote of many that I could give you, which exposes the strange and terrible moment we are in – when many of our best and brightest young Christians are living in what seems to be a morally inconsequential universe – where their actions and decisions don’t seem to make any difference to them – where they are blind to their own idolatry of self – where life is about gaining as many “woosh” moments as possible (as Mark puts it).  Where people who are supposed to be living a Christ-centered life lust after what Mark calls the  “the trinkets of faux immanence” and the secular Jerusalem that is “New York” that dangles before us the golden carrots of secular transcendence.

What “The Road Trip” does for us is to help us to understand how we have got to where we are now in the west – and especially the western church.  This is our cultural history.

And we all should seek to understand why are the way we are.  The very nature of culture is that it’s not always visible to those on the inside.  In some ways human beings are like fish in a bowl who don’t realise that there is such a thing as water.  What do I mean?  Continuing with the metaphor.  We exist inside a narrative. This is our culture.  For one easy way to remember the definition of “culture” is that it is the stories we tell ourselves.  Cultural studies 101.

Right now, for people in the 21st century western contemporary protestant church, our story is in dissonance with God’s story.

You can tell our story in many ways.  But Mark has convincingly done this by spring-boarded off Kerouac’s  “On the road.”

There is a new false gospel, which Mark keeps referring to as “the road:” we are people who are tantalised by the gospel of “the road.”  All through this book Mark contrasts this gospel with the true gospel.

What is the gospel of “the road”?  Mark says, it’s the one portrayed by Kerouac in his stream of conscientiousness where we pack up our bags from the commitments and responsibilities that is “home,” and where our life becomes like a permanent road trip: seeking out endless new experiences, free from responsibility – a kind of “permanent adolescence.”  It is a mental state, which leads to being constantly dissatisfied, looking for the next best thing, living in a state of incompleteness, always engaged in a quest for significance where the act of questing is more important than the quest.

Mark shows us how the gospel of the road is full of annoying paradoxes – paradoxes which cause us great angst. On the one hand we want a comfortable life with a well paid job, on the other hand we want a life of meaning.  We want the security of home and the freedom to travel.  We want unconditional love from our family but freedom to chart our own path.  Of course these tensions depressingly lead us into a life that is ultimately unsatisfying and destructive: which is what happened to Kerouac himself.

But you are mistaken if you think this is just about pointing the finger at the frivolous young adult hipsters in our church with their Oscar Wilde short stories and their Ingmar Bergman films.  Marks draws a meta-narrative over the whole western church.  After all, it is in fact the baby boomer senior pastors who are the first generation products of the post-war counter culture movement.  I love the quote from John Leland that said something like:

“Kerouac’s true legacy is Christian Rock, the Vinyard denomination, and Rick Warren’s goatee.” p131

And this is not just about one denomination or another.  The gospel of the world is essentially the gospel of mass media.  It is the gospel of our favourite HBO tv series.  It is the gospel that tells my young adults that they should only rock up to church if they like the preacher or the topic, and that they should avoid churches with children (because they are inconvenient and don’t make me feel good), and that they must have a gap year traveling, that it doesn’t matter if they sleep with their boyfriend and then go off and lead youth group, and that Christianity is just a life phase.

But it’s also a false gospel that says to me, as a pastor – what mark are you going to make on the world?  How are you going to make you worship services full of “woosh” moments?

Don’t read this book if you don’t want to be challenged.

I confess to being a New Yorkerfile.  I’ve been there twice in the last two years – for ministry purposes of course.  I love Woody Allen.  Like Mark, I too got to preach and have my own NEW YORK DEBUT!

If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!!!

I too have played in rock bands over the past 20 years, apparently rock stars are the high priests of the road.  I’m no rock star, I didn’t even audition for the Voice – the judges were too mainstream for me.  I may not be a rock star – but I am a rock star in my own head.

Mark, I want to thank you for writing this book, because above all other people, I need to read it, absorb it, meditate on it, and then go back to Jesus and remind myself that only he offers true transcendence, I need to be reminded of the power of covenantal community.  I need to be aware of the lies of the gospel of the road.  And as a pastor, you have convinced me more than ever, that what we need is a revolution in true discipleship.

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