For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say... if we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit." -- Galatians 5:13-17, 25
We've been driving across half the United States for the last ten days. We left Tucson, Arizona on June 29, and are now in Indiana heading to Pennsylvania. We have three and a half weeks, a rough itinerary, lots of room for flexibility, and hopes of seeing many new things. Along the way we are visiting with friends and family, many of whom we wouldn't get to see any other way. It's a way of connecting with the people we know and love, and with this great country.
On our first morning, waking up in Pinetop, Arizona, we met a couple at breakfast who were also visiting from Tucson. They had two very cute little dogs, which my boys were all over, and they gave us some ideas of things to do in Pennsylvania where they had also lived. As we left them, my youngest son said, "They were very nice." I said, "I bet we meet a lot of nice people on our trip. Most people are nice." He said, "But some people are not nice." Yes. That's the way it is: most people are nice, but a few are not.
Unfortunately, we focus so much on those who are not nice.
One of the things that I've noticed about this trip is how almost everyone express concerns about it. "What? Just you and your kids? Driving across the U.S?" "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" "You are awfully brave." "Have you checked-out your car?" "Make sure you leave an itinerary at home." "Be safe." Now, most of these concerns are expressed by people who know and care about me. But even people I don't know say the same thing. After awhile of this, what has come across the most to me is fear; fear for me and fear of the world around me. Where does this fear come from?
I think it comes from the fact that we so frequently hear about and dwell on the things that go wrong, instead of the things that go right. Bad things happening to people, and people committing crimes, overwhelmingly make the news. The most popular television shows are of people behaving badly to one another. How often do we hear on the news or read in the paper or watch a show about something that goes well, or when people are kind to one another? Very rarely.
Not that I was immune to fear either. The weather was my biggest concern, especially because of the terrible tornadoes in Oklahoma. Traveling through "Tornado Alley" almost made me not want to make the attempt.
I wrote last time about how we are so much better at focusing on our weaknesses instead of our strengths. I'm realizing now that we not only do this as individuals, we also do this as a society. We focus much more of our time and energy on the things that go wrong, or on people behaving badly, than we do on people behaving well or all the times that nothing goes wrong at all. And so, we end up with a very skewed sense of the world we live in. Very skewed. We think the world is a terribly dangerous place, and we miss out on all that is wonderful and beautiful.
I came across an extreme example of what this view of the world looks like on our trip. While visiting my sister in Topeka, Kansas, my brother-in-law drove us by the Westboro Baptist Church, renowned for picketing funerals as examples of God's punishment. Across the side of their church a banner read, "God Hates America." This group seems to view the whole world around them as evil, and therefore, they hate the world. And project this hatred onto God. It's hard to imagine such hatred. Especially from a group that considers itself Christian. Have they never read the words of Jesus?
In contrast, across the street from this church, thank God, is a house painted in rainbow colors. Aaron Jackson, co-founder of the charity Planting Peace, bought this house sight-unseen to serve as a counter-message to the WBC. He said he wanted to show that where there's hatred there is also love. He purposefully painted it in the colors of the gay pride flag because the WBC especially targets this group of people with their hatred. As we drove past both houses, I couldn't help but notice the many people around the Rainbow house, some gathering in groups talking, some leaving flowers on the lawn, while there was no one around the walled-off church.
So far on this trip of several thousand miles, we have only met loving, friendly, helpful people. From the snow-capped Rockies to the wind-blown plains and beyond. Even in Tornado Alley where people actually live and build houses and cities, and thrive.
Interestingly, the couple of people who have been encouraging to me about this
trip are people who have done the same kind of thing themselves. They
have been there and done that, and were mightily enriched by the
experience. It makes me think in a new way of the phrase, "Home of the
Free Because of the Brave," which I saw on a t-shirt in a road-side shop
in Colorado. Now I know that this shirt was referring to our military,
but since I had been repeatedly called "brave" lately, I couldn't help
but think that we are all as free as we are brave.
There are many brave people in America, who live life to the
fullest. I, too, like the freedom and the life I have been given,
especially as a child of God. I plan to make the most of this life I have been given.
At the Topeka Bible Church last Sunday with my sister and brother-in-law, we sang, "America! America!
God shed his grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea." I hope my kids learn the truth of that message on this trip and others. For I plan to make many more of these cross-country tours. Maybe we'll head west, north-west, next summer.
Dear God, thank you for filling me with courage and love. And for wonderful, flexible children! Yours always, Pam