In his new book Holy Nomad: The Rugged Road to Joy, Matt Litton discusses some of the twists and turns of his own spiritual journey, and identifies four tools that can help us in our quest to follow God. Since he lives not far from me in Cincinnati, we sat down together recently for an interview about the book.
P.S. He probably will not like me boasting about him, but Matt was recently named one of the top 80 teachers in Ohio. He teaches high school English in Mariemont. --JKR
Why did you write this book?
It was a personal journey for me, because in a very real sense I was looking around at the people I connect with, the people I admire, and asking, “Where is the joy? Where is the spirituality in the things that we pursue?” I don’t know if it’s the pace of culture, but I went through a time in my life when I wasn’t feeling a lot of joy. I didn’t have those transcendental moments. I just walked into that tension of Jesus in the gospels saying that he came to bring us joy, and what our faith practice actually is.
So you were on a quest for joy. Did you find it?
I think I found a Jesus-centered nomadic spirituality. We bury ourselves in materialism, religiosity, addiction, jealousy, greed, bad relationships . . . . It’s like we’re constantly finding things to weigh us down.
I looked at the moment when Jesus calls Lazarus to follow him. He calls Lazarus forth and makes this big pronouncement to the people standing there. He wants them to know that he did this to show he is the source of life. Like Lazarus, we want to emerge from these dead places in our lives to a place of resurrection.
You talk in the book about four tools for spiritual nomads. What are they?
- Trust: The first is trust that we will be taken care of, understanding the difference between needs and wants. For example, I checked the Internet to see when the new iPhone is coming out, and checked it every day, and that is clearly not a need.
- Knowing our identity: Learning to find our identity in the Holy Nomad, understanding who we are. There’s something like $400 billion a year spent just on advertising in the United States.
- Imagination: We need the power of imagination to kind of bridge this gap between the reality of the here and now and a vision of eternity. God gave us the imagination to be able to do that. For example, my son Eli and I were in the grocery store. They had these tags that you could pay for and feed a family for a day. He pulled one off, and I asked him why he did it. He said, “I couldn’t imagine going without a dinner.”
- Asking questions: One of my big problems growing up as an evangelical is that a lot of my questions were discouraged, and I find now that those questions actually enlighten and deepen my journey, my relationship with God. I think questions keep all of our relationships alive and healthy and moving forward.
You’ve mentioned that you didn’t grow up in an evangelical atmosphere that really encouraged questions, though.
I grew up Nazarene and Methodist. That [fear of questions is] not specific to my environment, but the evangelical world as a whole. I think questions scare people. It’s easier for us to move through our lives comfortably if we can define God, but God tells us in the Old Testament that “I am.” There’s a mystery to that. People get really uncomfortable when we can’t answer that question. But when I do ask that question, those are the times that I grow spiritually. We tend to have this wrong idea that we’ll progress spiritually only when we get answers to those questions. But it’s the asking that brings the spiritual progress.
What’s the role of other people in the life of the holy nomad?
The most challenging section for me to write was the section on community, this idea that to be truly nomadic you cannot journey alone.
That seems ironic.
Yeah. Our culture’s perception comes from Hollywood, some guy wandering off alone in the desert. But I’ve had my world transformed. I think that I’m learning that community means my neighborhood, and that it means the people I maybe don’t like so much, and I’m learning to ask what I can do for this person and what I can give to my church.
We really do live in this “don’t ask, don’t tell” spirituality culture. But we need people ahead of us on the trail who have been there and tell us what to do.