Posts Tagged ‘travel


Stepping Outside

I was born in the year 1951.

Besides making me INCREDIBLY old, it also means there were two bedrock truths I clung to with the ferocity of a baby opossum clinging to its mother’s back as she swims across a swollen creek:

  • My country (the good ol’ USA) is always right.
  • My country is also intrinsically BETTER than all other countries.

I think I came upon these views honestly enough.

My birth year was not that far removed from the victorious end of World War II. It was a time when the sweet perfume of VJ Day and VE Day still hung in the air. Evil had been defeated by Good and it was mostly America’s doing. It was a time when the evidence for our exceptionalism was abundant, and we were always up for taking just one more victory lap whenever we could.

That heady time, however, gave way to the extreme racial violence of the Civil Rights era. It was the time of poll taxes and literacy tests, the torture and murder of Emmett Till, the bombing of black churches, Bull Connor and his fire hoses, the flaming Greyhound busses of the Freedom Riders, and Viola Liuzzo. 

This era was a gigantic black eye for our country, and a full frontal assault on our identity as “land of the free, home of the brave.”

But somehow, I didn’t see it that way. For me it was more like being part of a wonderful family… with the notable exception of that embarrassing uncle we all agree is crazy and try to avoid talking about. 

So, despite some serious evidence to the contrary, the myth of American exceptionalism – for me and for many – continued to reign supreme.

I can’t say for sure how long that belief lingered in my psyche. I can, however, tell you how it began to crumble and fall apart. 

Travel. And reading.

Travel – the thing I am doing right now as we speak – brings a person nose-to-nose with the realities of places other than the one you grew up in. Travel shows you a place’s uniquenesses, its exceptionalisms, its blessings, and its warts. When you visit another country, you cannot help but notice the pride they take in their own history and people. It begins to feel arrogant and wrong to keep on saying, WE are better you are! WEare RIGHT!”

As Mark Twain is purported to have once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

As odd and counterintuitive as this phenomenon might be, it seems I always return from travel with a greater appreciation for the wonders of my homeland. 

Reading is the other thing that can be a deadly poison to chauvinism. Just like travel, reading broadens horizons and opens eyes. It tests hypotheses. It questions premises. It uproots. 

Sometimes it whispers, other times it shouts, but no matter how it speaks, reading invariably challenges truths we have held to be self-evident. I still count the courses I most resisted taking in seminary as the courses I learned the most from.

It is by reading, for example, that I learned that most of America’s current economic supremacy was built on the bowed backs of black and brown enslaved people. It is by reading that I learned about the disastrous effects of specialized farming, child labor practices, artificial intelligence, Japanese internment camps in America, the French revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, the causes and outcomes of World War I and World War II, female circumcision in Africa, the history of aviation, and countless other topics that have shaped the way I see the world.

Yes, I have acquired some knowledge over the years… though probably not enough at this point to even CONSIDER auditioning for Jeopardy! However, the more knowledge I acquire, the more I realize I have yet to acquire. Instead of making me proud of my learning, reading and learning makes me humble about what I don’t yet know. 

The problem is, most Americans don’t travel (a 2019 Department of Commerce survey concluded that 64 percent of U.S. Americans have never traveled to another country… including Canada and/or Mexico.)

Most Americans also don’t read. A survey by the group Test Prep Insight found that, at the end of 2022, the last full year of the pandemic, 48.5 percent of Americans had read ZERO books during the past year. 

As a result of this non-reading, non-traveling behavior, many Americans continue to swagger into the public forum braying, “WE are right! We are the BEST!” without any evidence to support their claim. And as wise old King Solomon once told us, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2, NRSVU).

I beseech my fellow countrypersons: Please travel. Please read. Please realize how much the world has changed since 1951. And please believe you and I can learn a LOT from people who don’t resemble us at all.

Abundant blessings;


Roots and Wings

I love to travel.

… To go to places I’ve never been before… to meet people who are nothing at all like me… to see sights so incredible you can’t help but stop and capture their likeness.

And when I haven’t traveled in a while, I start to feel dulled… stagnant… enervated.

Then again…

I love to stay put.

… To have a home… a sense of place… to find comfort and peace in the familiar curve of each tree branch and sidewalk… to know without a doubt that I belong HERE.

When I’ve been away from my place for too long, I start to feel homesick… rootless… soul-starved.

Sometimes my two loves seem to be at war. 

I want to leave. I want to stay. 

Leave. Stay. Stay. Leave.

I worry that I may never find a resolution to this disquieting Sisyphean dilemma.

That I may be living a life of limitless restlessness.

Then, at other times, I somehow remember the lessons from The Teachers. They urged me – in moments like this – to pause… and pray… and listen.

In those moments, I hear the voice of the Psalmist saying, “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God.” (Psalm 84:3, NRSV).

That is when I remember where I really belong.

That is when I remember to Whom I really belong.

Abundant blessings;



AUTHOR’S NOTE: I do not begrudge anyone a vacation in a Caribbean nation. In fact, I just returned from one myself. But then yesterday, as we were fleeing Puerto Rico just barely ahead of Tropical Storm Dorian, this dialogue began taking shape in my mind. I was prompted to share it here…

Us and PR sunset

I’m here on vacation in this pretty place.

I live here. This is home.

It’s so exotic! I love all these wild-looking plants and strange creatures running around.

Every day we scratch out a living from the soil. Some days we do not succeed.

I just wish the roads weren’t so bumpy and poorly maintained.

Praise God for the means to travel from one village to the next.

I wish we didn’t have to go through these poor villages on our way to the beach. They are so depressing.

Last week a speeding rental car ran over my son’s puppy, right in front of his eyes. He cried for days.

One thing I love is how cheap everything is! But you really have to know how to drive a hard bargain.

I created these myself. I am thankful God gave me the ability to work with my hands.

We couldn’t spend a lot of time in the pool yesterday. It was just too hot.

Often in the evening we can stand outside and feel a cool breeze coming in from the east.

I am so glad there is that big grocery store nearby. That way we don’t ever have to run out of ANYTHING!

Today we all ate. Tomorrow… we will see.

The problem with being so far outside the city is all the loud sounds of the birds and frogs and crickets when you’re trying to sleep.

The song of the jungle sings us to sleep. It is peaceful and relaxing.

I think I remember reading something about a little political trouble they had recently here. Not sure what that was all about, but it all looks pretty OK now.

Most of us learned long ago not to look to our political leaders to help change anything. It is a vain hope.

Uh oh! Looks like that tropical storm is headed this way. Better change our flight and get the heck out of here before it hits!

I live here. This is home. Let us board up the windows and pray for a safe passage.

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