One of the best things about taking a trip to a foreign place is experiencing being foreign. When I am away from what usually props up my normality and I don’t have easy access to my usual avoidance mechanisms, it is just me, God and whoever we meet. It makes for a great time to see what is really going on with us.
This time we were in St. Lucia, where it is between 78 and 86 degrees all year round (which sure beats the 6 degrees Philly was experiencing while I was gone!). It is a weird place for other reasons as well, mostly social ones. For instance, while we were touring one of the original plantation houses from the 1700s, it dawned on me that we who were on the tour were a lot like the plantation owners, still — buying up services, experiences and time with our European-descended money, while the tour operators were a lot like the former plantation slaves, still — serving up whatever might suit our fancy while receiving very little for it, stooping to ask us for monetary “appreciation” on our way out. Hmmm.
My trip continues to give me a lot to think about. Being an American (and one who has plenty of money) comes with a big responsibility to God and others. Plus, it is important to ponder what it is like to not have plenty, since like Jesus is quoted saying in Luke 6:20,
Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Is he talking to me? (or to you?). Matthew quotes it as “poor in spirit,” but I think Luke knew what He was talking about, too. Being poor makes it easier to be blessed. When you are poor, you need to rely on someone outside yourself. I quickly figured out that it makes the St. Lucians a bit resentful to rely on giant cruise ships dumping 5000 rich people onto their shores for their livelihoods. But relying on God is bigger than relying on Americans or the Europeans. Being rich does not save you. Being poor doesn’t either — but it can supply motivation.
Where this thinking came into even greater focus was when I met Lee Ann. She’s the gift shop operator at Treetop Adventure Park outside Dennery, where she tried to induce me to buy banana ketchup. She also works as a harness adjuster for the zip lines. That’s where I first met her, in a tree top, where she was softly singing to herself. I asked her what she was singing, maybe I would like to sing along.
She asked, “Do you sing?” I admitted I did.
She asked me to sing a few bars. So I, for some reason, burst into “Victory Is Mine” and started clapping my hands and such. I am not sure if Gwen was embarrassed at this point or not. Embarrassment kind of comes with the territory when travelling with me.
She said, “Oh, so you know gospel?” I admitted that I knew a little.
She started thinking through her selections of Christian music. (Was it “anything to satisfy the customer” or was it just for fun?) She came up with, I am a C. And we started singing together.
You may have never heard this tune. It comes from American Sunday school, where people get little kids to proudly bear their connection to Jesus. Lee Ann must have gone to a VBS, at least.
We only had a minute, since Gwen had already taken off on her zip. But we could not get though the whole song: “I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N. And I have C-H-R-I-S-T in my H-E-A-R-T.” But that is as far as we could go, although I knew there was a hard part that we had yet to spell and sing. Lee Ann could not remember it either.
That’a the ironic part. She forgot the part she needed to remember the most, I think, being a poor ketchup salesperson. And I forgot the part that Americans are most likely to forget these days, being rich, self-reliant, banana-republic consumers. I later remembered that the full gospel song of assurance ends with, “And I will L-I-V-E-E-T-E-R-N-A-L-L-Y.”
People with Empire-trickle-down theology forget that it is in the age to come that the promises to us in Jesus are fulfilled. We won’t get eternal life by becoming robots. And we won’t get it by forcing real people to act like robots for our pleasure. Only Jesus offers eternal life. Only Jesus has demonstrated how it comes about by rising from the dead.
People who live off the disposable income of those who benefit from the Empire have a clearer choice to make. They need actual Christianity that focuses on eternity, just like Jesus promises:
My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day (John 6:40).
For some people, great need drives them to find hope for life now and forever in Jesus. I met such potentially-blessed people in a place where the former slaves are still servicing the needs of the 1% from around the world, the rich who can afford to float in on giant, resource-sucking cruise ships.
I think I needed a little wake-up call occasioned by my lapse of memory. I don’t think I forgot a line of a children’s song purely because I have senior moments, now. I think I get duped, too, by living in an environment in which people act like they are gods and expect life to be served up to them on a silver platter all day. We are way too invested in making the most of our limited live spans. Many of my friends are not desperate for Jesus to save them at all, they are more likely to allow Him to serve them if He doesn’t ask for appreciation too often.