On living far away ...


I've mentioned on here before that my brother recently came for a visit, and many of you have checked out his fabulous photos. (A few favorites at the end of this post.)  (His new camera--and the photos they produced--have made me want an SLR. But the first--and responsible!--step is to make sure I'm getting everything I can out of our current camera. And no, I haven't looked at the camera manual or even picked up the camera since Chip left....)

What I haven't said is how great it was to have him here, how much we enjoyed seeing Hong Kong through "new" eyes again, and how fun it was to see him play and interact with Finn. When I left him at the airport express check-in, my eyes unexpectedly filled up. It's not like I miss him in a daily way--we haven't lived in the same city for 15 years, except for a two year stint back in 2000-2002.  But I do wish we saw each other more than 2x a year, and I so wish that Finn could spend lots of time with him, to learn about all the things we won't teach him--like football, soccer, barbecue. 

This is the cost of living far away, and the dilemma of so many of our friends. Do you live in the place you love, the place with the perfect job and the landscape that speaks to you? Or do you choose to stay close to family, close to old friends, close to the people who can tell your children stories about when you were a child? How possible is it to maintain--and develop--relationships from across the country? Is skype enough?  

We now know many families who live oceans away from their roots, and many of these families have chosen this as their life, not just a two-year experience. They feel more-or-less confident in their decisions, and have settled on various ways of dealing with these overseas relationships, from month-long visits from grandparents to essentially forming new "extended families" here in Hong Kong. One family we know spends every summer in Canada at their lake place, which is next door to the grandparents'. 

 The forming of new "extended families" is, of course, something many people do, whether they live far from their actual families or not. I recently heard Luke Timothy Johnson, New Testament scholar, speak (on Speaking of Faith, of course!) on the ambiguity of the New Testament view towards families, and in fact he once gave a talk entitled "God doesn't like families."  This provocative title hammered home the point that Jesus called us to love deeply beyond our bloodlines, and to invest in a community wider than our usual associations.

He quotes a colleague of his, Luther Smith, as saying that "what the Bible seems to say about families is that they are necessary but not sufficient." The problem, he goes on to say, with the idolatrous position of making families all-sufficient is that then we lose "the prophetic edge of moving beyond family, moving beyond kinship into a larger world which is God's creation." 

And so this is the gift--and the call--of living far away right now. Of course, even here (especially here?) it's easy to focus on our little family of three, and feel sufficient unto ourselves. But as we are forced to look beyond family for the relationships that sustain us, we are striving to also keep our attention broad, to look for those lonelier than ourselves, to live fully in the larger world, as members of the human family.



Chip said...

Thanks, Monte. I had a great time, which once again made me want to live in the same place as you and Matt and Finn. I do love being an uncle!! Of the more than 1000 pictures I took during my trip, the last one you posted (Finn waking you up with the city skyline visible out the window) is my favorite.

This reminds me that I need to finished the posts about the trip on my blog. I have drafts waiting for some touch-ups before publishing.

foodsmith said...

The links are now fixed--thanks to those who let me know they weren't working!

Marcy at Life is Good said...

This post title caught my eye, and it's definitely something we struggled with while living abroad. I remember when Donovan was born, my mom came out for 5 weeks to help me take care of him, and when it came time for her to fly back home it just hit me how sad I was about not being able to have Donovan grow up around his extended family and see them all the time.

Now in California, we're still a 3hr flight away from most of them and he'll probably see his grandparents about as often as he did in Switzerland! (they came to visit often, thanks to frequent flyer miles). Zach and I still hold a goal of trying to go abroad again in 5+ years, but this same question of how far away we want to be from family will come into play again... we'll see which way we go.

At least nowadays it's much easier to keep in touch with people from across the globe. I chatted via facebook recently with a cousin in Chile. Ah, the wonders of the internet!