“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” –Mark Twain
Something that travel has offered me is the chance to see myself as part of the human family, to go beyond labels of “white” or “American.” Making connections with locals in the places we traveled highlighted how much we humans have in common, despite differences in class, language, religion, appearance, and place of birth. We have been welcomed as friends by complete strangers, despite our awkwardness and our “otherness.” This reinforces our desire to do the same to others.
The kind of travel we do on our boat is not a vacation; we sail to a new place to learn about life in another corner of the world, to meet new people, and to hopefully go beyond the superficial. While we enjoy it, we also find it to be humbling, difficult, and eye-opening. And even the chance to live this way is a privilege of which we have become more and more aware.
Upon our return to the United States, we realized something else that travel offers: the chance to see our own country with new eyes. I hear music and language, see faces, and interact with people in a completely new way. I was raised to love and accept everyone as a child of God. I was raised to respect people even when I disagreed with them. While I may not have been “blinded” by racism or classism, I have had tunnel vision. I have made certain assumptions, had prejudices, and followed patterns of thought that put people in a box or even made them invisible. I probably still do; and will likely spend the rest of my life making course corrections as cross-cultural relationships broaden my horizons.
I am disheartened by the division I see in our country—by the ignorance, disrespect, and open hatred. Even among those who agree that there is one God, one faith, and one love that binds us together, there is disunity. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted that “the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Those who claim Jesus as the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, must grapple with what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” And who is my neighbor? His parable of the good Samaritan answers that question by challenging racism and bigotry explicitly; he’s calling his listeners out on their hypocrisy.
It is easier to stand on the sidelines and criticize something as obviously wrong as looting and vandalism, to point out how it doesn’t honor the dead or further a just cause. It is much harder to see that the rage that leads to social breakdown is a result of systemic injustice, of our own actions or inaction; harder to admit that “there but by the grace of God go I” (John Bradford). If I had been born in other circumstances, I might be the one lighting fires. The potential for chaos exists in every human heart.
But so does the potential for compassion, communication with respect, and love. Do not lose hope. If you believe we can be governed by something beyond raw emotions, if you believe that God can set us free from all the things that bind us (including our own ignorance, bias, and past mistakes) and make us into a family, if you pray “Your kingdom come,” if you are willing to cross cultural barriers to form authentic relationships, then there is no reason to despair. I retain the hope that one day we will break down the walls that separate us, that we will treat others the way we want to be treated, that we will lay down our lives—our agendas, our judgments, our pride—for our friends. Hate is real, but so is love.
As a starting point, I can recommend these three books from different genres that have caused me to stop and question my own thinking and to see life from another vantage point:
- Jodie Piccoult’s novel, Small Great Things
- Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime
- Spencer Perkins’ and Chris Rice’s non-fiction book, More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel