The Balcony or the Road?


No one can obtain knowledge of ultimate things who fails to recognize what the first great challenge that comes to him as a human being is not to know something but to be something.

John Mackay

About a decade ago I was hanging out with a mate drinking coffee. We both agreed, more of the same was not enough. The only hope for the church in the West was the rise of dynamic movements.

But who was going to lead them? Not us. We'd analysed the situation. We'd even come up with a solution—movements and movement leaders. But somehow there was a distance between us and reality. We were living life on the balcony. Not the road.

John Mackay's parable distinguishes those on the balcony from the pilgrims on the road below.

According to Mackay the balcony is the symbol of the perfect spectator, for whom life and the universe are permanent objects of study and contemplation.

Whereas the road is the place where life is intensely lived, where thought has its birth in conflict and concern, where choices are made and decisions are carried out.

Alan and I were the products of a life-time of Western education—secular and theological—that fostered detachment and objectivity rather than engagement. We were spectators not actors. Observers not participants. Balconeers not pilgrims.

We've both come a long way since those days—at least as far as from the balcony to the road.

Alan Hirsch