Sunday, September 14, 2008

On comparing Europe and America

Recently a family member asked me if I thought America was the best place to live, and I said no. So they asked why I didn't leave. This seemed strange to me. Why would I leave just because I didn't necessarily think it was the best place to live? After all, I'm not all that interested in finding the best place to live and then living there. I was born and raised here, and it is a good place to live, even a great place to live. And I love it.

This conversation rang in my ears as I traversed Europe and wondered about how my ancestors decided to leave the Old World and come to the New. This has made a huge difference in who I am today, what language I speak, and even how I think. I wondered how I would like living in Europe. It seemed to me that I could enjoy living there. Of course just to be completely open, I have yet to travel somewhere where I could not imagine living, whether in Central or South America, Canada, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or Utah. There are so many beautiful and interesting places on this planet. Okay, I must admit that I am way of a place as urban as New York City, though I have heard there are nice parks.

Mark Twain travelled to Europe in his time. In those days there were many people who were fawning over the Old World, and how it was superior to the US. Twain of course didn't take to such nonsense. He was very critical of Europe. He thought the food was horrible. But the prices were cheap, and so at one point when he was in financial trouble he lived in Europe to help make ends meet.

My how times have changed. Today it is the opposite, in my opinion. Living in Europe is very expensive, with the weak dollar this summer making it more difficult. But the food was fantastic. Europeans are not as good at fast food as Amerians, and in fact they seem to preserve the idea that meals should be slow and social affairs. But overall they are good at making good solid food. Americans are more willing to allow taste to suffer for the sake of convenience, and even, I would say, for the sake of appearance. The Red Delicious apple should be called the Red Atrocious. It is a beautiful apple that travels well but it tastes like wet sawdust.

Switzerland was a place where you could take public transportation almost anywhere. Even the most remote Anabaptist cave was within about an hour's walk from the closest bus or train. I love taking the train, and so there is a lot to love about Switzerland. I enjoy toy electric trains but I also love real trains. And of course the mountains in Switzerland are beautiful. But when I stayed with a Swiss family they had photos of the American plains so that they could remember the wide open spaces of America.

So while there is much to love about Europe, I find myself happy to be back home. There is much to love about America. The wide open spaces, the open society, the friendliness, the creativity, and the willingness to help each other out. The land is wide and beautiful, wild and varied.

A theme of Swiss Mennonites was Psalm 24: The Earth is the Lord's. It was their way of saying that God is the owner of the land and not their oppressive overlords. I think of it as a way of resisting immigration out of Switzerland. But it is also a way of affirming that the earth is the Lord's, and that God is found throughout the planet. This allows us to take seriously stewardship of the land wherever we are found. It means that as Christians the whole earth is a place where we can find a home. And in fact Christians are found throughout the world. I hope that my time in another country can help to foster more understanding between nations.

This is likely my final blog, at least for now. I am thankful for the time I had away and I am thankful now to be back home, in Elkhart County, Indiana, this part of the earth where my family was planted some 160 years ago. It is an interesting place, and a place where you can find beauty, if you are looking for it. The earth is the Lord's indeed.

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