Burning Bush or Blackberries?

In many ways, we live in “Disney Land”. I’ve thought about some form of that statement at various times for a couple of years now. It first hit me while walking through the Morocco Pavilion in the World Showcase at Disney’s Epcot Center in Orlando. We saved our money and took our family to the resort for the first time during fall break in 2006. One spot I was looking forward to visiting was the Morocco Pavilion. I traveled in Morocco several years ago and found it to be an absolutely beautiful and exotic place. I loved the people, food, the noisy markets, and the beautiful and diverse terrain. I was hoping for my family to get a taste of that experience at Epcot, figuratively and literally.

However, I had entered Morocco by way of the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, traveled by car to Fez and then roamed the streets of the ancient medina before sitting down tired and very hungry to an amazing meal of fresh bread, Tajine, and great wine. Those sharing that meal together were collectively reeling from cross cultural overload. It was one of the most memorable 24hour periods of my life. (I still have the wine cork from this meal on my desk to commemorate this wonderful experience.)

Contrast that with our journey to the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot: We arrived by way of a mono-rail car en route from the station not far from Cinderella’s Castle. We walked under the Spaceship Earth pavilion toward the World Showcase, past Disney versions of Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, America, and Japan and entered the Morocco pavilion. Behind the facades we found pretty much the same restaurants and shops found throughout the park. The food was overpriced, very poor imitations of the “cuisines” of the respective countries. I had an absolute blast with the family and we all enjoyed our simulation to the fullest. But I found myself thinking that for the same amount of money, we could have actually taken the family to MOROCCO.

In a book of daily readings, (365 Tao), Den Ming-Dao wrote, “It is good to have holy places in the world, and it is good for us to go on pilgrimages…To visit a place is minor; to change within yourself is greater. …When it comes to the sacred sites, its better to be a pilgrim than a tourist.” Much of our western culture is geared to create/lure tourists. Think of the simulations of actual experience we encounter everyday: video games rather than actual sports, treadmills rather than sidewalks, restaurants with “family” themes rather than sitting down and eating as a family, “reality” TV programs rather than actual reality, etc. (add some more to the comments if you like)… Simulated experiences can only aspire to be a vehicle for tourism; entertaining to be sure, but never providing opportunity for pilgrimage. (I’m praying that the “Bible Theme Park” doesn’t come to Tennessee).

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush aflame with God.
But only those who see take off their shoes.
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.

By all means, HAVE FUN this summer! Be a tourist! Pick some blackberries! Go to Disney world!! But, plan some time for pilgrimage. It might be a journey all the way to the family dining room, or to the hiking trail around the corner that you know is there but have never visited,…(suggestions welcome!). Take off your shoes! Take notice of the “common bush aflame with God.”

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Little Pink Houses…

Slums on the hillside in Rio de Janeiro

The beach outside the Sheritan Hotel, Rio de Janeiro

The stark contrast of these images haunted me during my entire stay at the Sheratan Hotel in Rio de Janeiro. I took these photos from opposite sides of the hotel property, no more than 50 yards apart. If you were in a corner room in the hotel, the view from the window to your left would be the beach; your view from the window on the right would be of the houses.

I thought of several things to say in this post and found it rather difficult to select any particular direction. I could speak about the beauty of the ocean and the wonderful time spent on my balcony listening to the waves. I also had some rather sanctimonious comments about poverty that were very close to spewing from my keyboard. All were true…it was just difficult to decide…

Ultimately, what kept returning to my mind was the pink house in the middle of the top photo. There in the middle of the squalor of urban poverty and hopelessness was a brilliantly pink house! It was totally, obnoxiously PINK! And it was AWESOME!

I can only speculate on the motives of the owner. What I see is a home that refuses to blend into the hillside. While the circumstances this family negotiates each day are doubtlessly no different than that of their neighbors, the obstinate decision to stand out, to bring color to the neighborhood was simply amazing to me. Another distinguishing architectural feature is the back porch and the patio on the second level. Both of these areas opened toward the gorgeous view of the Atlantic ocean and the breaking surf I enjoyed only as a tourist.

Jaded Traveler

It has been quite a while since my last post…

I returned last Sunday from a 2 week trip to Brazil. It was a wonderful experience but in very different ways than my previous travels abroad. There were several “firsts” on this particular trip: first trip to South America; first trip to Brazil; first trip south of the equator, etc. I met some wonderful people, saw some amazing scenery, and for the first time in my life, had my fill of barbecue.

A new element for me on this trip was that the novelty of leaving the country was beginning to wear thin. It’s not that I am some sort of “jet-set world-traveler”. However, as I boarded the plane this time, it was more with a sense of “not again” than “I can’t wait!”

This was not so much a product of frequency of travel but of an awareness of the toll being away for 2 weeks would have on family, home, work, etc. In the past, the anticipation of new places, experiences and passport stamps overwhelmed the thoughts of responsibilities left behind. On this departure however, I would have traded places and remained at home if that option had existed.

So in an interesting way, I entered Brazil somewhat jaded…counting the days until my return rather than wide-eyed with wonder and dreading each turn of the calendar. That’s not to say the days were bad. They were in fact fantastic. As with any trip abroad, I found this one to be life-altering in some very profound ways. Each day brought new thoughts, relationships, and a broadened world-view. But, more importantly, in my heart at least, it brought me closer to my reunion with what was most important…my family and home.

I’m looking forward to my next trip however. My daughter Hillary and I will be traveling with a group from our church to Holland and Germany. We will spend a few days in Amsterdam visiting with some of our good friends who recently moved back there to manage a Salvation Army homeless ministry. We will then head to Leipzig, Germany to attend the Baptist World Youth Congress. It will be great to visit our friends in their new home and most of all to travel with Hillary.

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