When I was growing up in rural Indiana, I was provincial. I did not know I was provincial; in fact, I am not sure I would even have known what that word meant. If you look up the word in a dictionary, you will find a couple of apt definitions. A provincial person is someone of “local or restricted interests or outlooks.” That described me! Another definition of provincial is a “person lacking urban polish or refinement.” Yep, that described me.
There was very little diversity in my life experience…ethnically, racially, religiously…you name it. No one I knew drove a non-American made car. Career choices for boys and girls were pretty clear with little overlap. When you are provincial, it does not occur to you to ask why. For a provincial outlook, most of life is a given. One could have hopes and aspirations, but most people I knew did not have hopes that were very big or expansive.
In my experience there were only two kinds of people who could “go global:” soldiers and missionaries. I had no aspiration for either option. One scared me and the other held no interest for me.
I think my experience and, consequently, view of God was also provincial. Of course, I did not think God was a glorified Indiana farmer, but my God certainly was not big enough for the universe that I did not know very well. And the image of God as Shepherd did not serve very effectively to break my provincial theological outlook. I do not think I was open to nor expectant of everything the Spirit could do in one’s life.
In some ways that sounds too dramatic. It sounds as if some spiritual hurricane blew through my life and transformed me in remarkable ways. Not true…not in any dramatic fashion anyway. But I do think transformational things have happened for me. And I believe just as seriously the Spirit transforms others…perhaps even more dramatically. However, most transformations are slow, subtle, and often, sublime.
As I ponder it, I realize how frequently the transformative work of the Spirit has come every time I had the chance to “go global.” I never thought about it, but when we read the words of Jesus, we have “gone global.” Jesus was not an Indiana farmer. He was a Palestinian Jew who lived in a different era and within a different context.
The problem with being provincial is one interprets the global in provincial terms. I needed to learn to “read Jesus” in his global context. Especially, I needed to learn how to read the Buddha or Mohammed in their contexts.
A key in becoming less provincial is to become aware. That is easy to say, but when you are provincial, it is not easy to do. Usually for the provincial person, everything in his or her world reinforces that restricted outlook. And if I am not aware, it is really difficult to understand other points of view, much less, appreciate them.
Growing out of one’s provincialism is something like losing one’s naïveté. Not only have I changed---and I am convinced that is good---but God also has changed. Oh, I doubt that God has changed, but I sure have changed the way I perceive who God is and how God works.
I am sure God has always been “global.” God has always been involved with the Chinese, Indians, Africans, etc. I had to “go global” in order to understand that. And when you “go global,” then you also understand you are given a divine mission to become a peace-maker, a lover, and a co-laborer to the kingdom will come…on earth as it is in heaven.