Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Resolutions Part 1: A Tourist in Paris (and in Life)

It's New Year's Day, and I am in Paris, sitting at a table in a Parisian appartment after a day riding around the Metro and climbing the stairs of Montmartre. I've wanted to start blogging again, and today seems like a good time to do that.

But this blog isn't really about Paris.

This blog is about my New Year's Resolutions.

To talk about that, I first have to talk about a dream I have held in my heart since I was a little girl, maybe six or seven or eight, and my mom asked me if I wanted to take French lessons. I told her yes, but the lessons were cancelled. Apparently not that many kids (or their parents) thought French lessons were important.

I was disappointed. For some reason, and I don't know what it was, I wanted to learn French more than almost anything else in the world.   I finally got to begin studying French in ninth grade, and I embraced all things French in ninth grade. I memorized the dialogues the verb conjugations. I practiced the sound of the French "r." (It comes from the back of the throat and was very fun to say.)

Learning French seemed to come naturally to me. If I had believed in reincarnation, I would have believed I had been French in another life. I thought I would grow up to teach French. I loved French. I wanted to be French. I dreamt about going to France. About immersing myself in all things French.

That didn't happen for a variety of reasons.

Part of the problem was that although I mastered many aspects of the grammar, refined my pronunciation, read the classics, and wrote essays in French, I never actually spoke French with French people. I was waiting until my grammar, my pronunciation, and my listening comprehension got good enough. That never happened, and I wasn't willing to risk making mistakes.

This week I am in Paris. Prior to our arrival, I Yelped multiple restaurants to try. I watched Youtube videos of neighborhoods to familiarize myself with what I would see. I practiced my very rusty French. I learned how to order coffee and to indicate how I wanted my steak done. I wanted to be as prepared as possible.

On our first day, we started at the equivalent of a French farmer's market where I spoke in French bought cheese and sausages. We took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower and then marched to the Arch of Triumph and walked down the Champs-D'Elysees. We  made plans to go to Montmartre the next day to see Sacree Coeur, and we had reservations at a place near the Eiffel Tower for dinner on New Year's Eve.

This was what I had dreamed of as a teenager, but now it's not enough to see monuments and museums. It's not enough to greet people in French and use my limited French to buy agricultural projects and order in restaurants.

I am here in Paris, but I am on the outside looking at a culture that is not my own. I am not French. I am a tourist from America, and there is nothing wrong with this, but being a tourist has never been my dream. If I want to be part of this culture, if I want to engage this culture and these people, I can't approach them as a subject to be learned or a project. It's not possible in six days.

And that's when I realized that if I'm not careful, I can become a tourist in my own life. I can set out to the sights in my church or my work or my community without ever getting to know anyone. I can read a book and learn something new. I can try something unique. I can create a new project. And then I can create conclusions or judgments without taking time to see all the complexities.

Honestly, I think I do this all the time. It's a lot easier, really. No risks of rejection or being wrong. I don't realize my mistakes, my faulty conclusions, because I'm not around long enough to recognize them.

I don't want to live my life as a tourist. I've been praying about this for some time now, and I don't know what this means exactly, but I do know I want to engage the culture I live in and the people around me, and so I can't approach them as a subject to be learned or project to be completed. I must find a new way. I must suspend my judgments and get to know people.

In my typical tourist way, I have been reading books about the topic. Two books in particular have been very challenging.  DwellLife with God for the World, by Barry Jones, is about engaging in and being transformed by spiritual disciplines for the purpose of living out Christ's mission in the world.  Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement, by Michel Frost, is about what it looks like to live Christ's mission in the world. Together, these books paint a picture of what it means to life as a Christ follower in the world rather than as a tourist passing through.

And this is my New Year's Resolution. To move beyond the books. To be present. To engage with the people around me.

To stop being a tourist.

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