The Real 12 Days of Christmas


 

Years ago, Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree contrasted two ways of being in the evolving Western world. One, epitomized by the “olive tree,” is rooted, in place, stable, stationary. The other, the “Lexus,” was the emerging vision of the modern individual: a life distinguished by movement, displacement, and “being on the road.” The first was being. The second was going. The Lexus, Friedman argued, was quickly replacing the olive tree.

At the time I read Friedman’s book, I felt freed, the way you feel freed when someone puts into words what you hadn’t found yet. Friedman was describing the church I saw in America—olive-tree Christians were being replaced by Lexus Christians. Less and less, I was discovering, were people content simply being where they were, settling down, rooting themselves, and embracing mundane Christianity. Ours was becoming a church addicted to movement. Everything had to be radical. Why?

We’ve grown bored of our freedom.

Truth is, Christians are “pilgrims” (1 Pet. 2:11). This isn’t our home. We’re simply passing through. Thus the theme of James Harpur’s latest book, The Pilgrim’s Journey: A History of Pilgrimage in the Western World, a lucid and expansive study of the place of pilgrimage in Western Christianity. The book is by no means a theological treatise. Harpur generally sidesteps any sort of confessional, spiritual, or doctrinal conversations. This is history at its finest.

Harpur demonstrates these treks are as ancient as humanity itself. Even prehistoric humans, he shows, were drawn by something within to go and seek. While pilgrimage has been done since the dawn of time, it was the Christian tradition that invested it with religious significance. Scripture shows countless pilgrim journeys from Abraham, to David, to the Magi. Even the gospel narratives reveal that almost all of Christ’s teachings took place while spending time with disciples as they walked somewhere.

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