In my newsletter to supporters I noted my visit to the USA after an absence of many years and some of my thoughts of the changes I have seen. Some liked this, so I am sharing it here, with some additional stuff that did not go into the newsletter for the sake of length.
Being the first time to visit the US in 6 years (not counting a 5-day quick-trip in 2013), one gets a chance to see how things have changed in the US. It seems like changes in the US are less extreme than in the Philippines. Still, some things are noticeable. Some of them are positive or neutral:
- People are more focused on health and exercise than they were before. Fitness centers appear to be quite crowded a lot of the time, and less people heavier than me I see walking around. (6 years ago I felt quite small with so many BIG people walking around… much less on this trip.)
- More food choices are available for those with food allergies. So many types of nut milks are available in the stores now, as well as gluten-free products. We were shocked to have great gluten-free pretzels on the plane ride over to the US, and even more shocked to taste a wonderful gluten-free chocolate cake at Wiltsie Community Church. Who knew? I visited Yoder’s Market in Madison, Virginia. What was once a small little store has now become like a Mennonite “Whole Foods” with all sorts of healthy foods and products (with just enough unhealthy foods to make it interesting to me).
- In some level of conflict with the health food thing, we were thrilled to discover that Mallo Cups are back in production at Boyer’s Candies in Altoona, PA, and we had the wonderful treat called “Sponge Candy,” a Western New York specialty for the first time at Peterson’s Candies in Busti, NY.
- Lots of help-wanted signs all over the place, even though mostly for entry-level jobs. Even places that are very economically depressed (like where I was raised) had lots of entry-level jobs available. My friends there told me it was because “no one wants to work.” I am not sure if that is reality or not. My son, who decided to live in the United States for awhile, quickly found a job as a server in a Filipino restaurant in Virginia Beach, earning low wages, I suppose, by US standards, but would be a dream come true for many from the Philippines. Of course the cost of living in the States is HUGE compared to the Philippines… but still Joel should be able to save money if he sets his mind to it.
- Much greater use of credit cards and debit cards in transactions. Some people appear almost surprised when one pays with cash. This was the first time I had ever used a credit card utilizing chip-technology. I had to admit to a couple of store clerks lacking a skill that every American over the age of 8 or 9 knew— but soon I figured things out. I also had to websearch how to use a car with keyless ignition that I rented. I did not want to tell the clerk that I did not know how to start a car.
- Most people I met were quite friendly. Even the lady who took care of me at the DMV when I renewed my driver’s license was nice. I told my son Joel to expect less friendliness in the US than what he was used to in the Philippines. Friendliness is a cultural characteristic in the PI. But Joel and I were surprised at the general friendliness. It seems like a bit of a different form of friendliness than we find in the Philippines, but haven’t quite figured out to identify the difference. It is much like the issue of families. The Philippines is known for a strong family-orientation in contrast to the US. And this is quite true. However, Philippine families will often do horrible things to their own members that would be shocking, and sometimes criminal, in the US. And this behavior is considered rather normative. I haven’t quite figured out how to resolve this seeming contradiction.
There were some more negative things I saw as well.
- The biggest thing I saw was a much greater level of FEAR wherever I looked. Sometimes that Fear was shown with the more obvious symptoms. At other times, it was seen disguised as Anger or stylized Patriotism. There was a clear fear of losing (individual or group) power. I am hoping that by the next time I visit, more people understand that power is something to be eschewed, not hoarded.
- News coverage in the US is abysmal. People I talk to in the US fully agree that news coverage there is bad, but then add that their own favorite source of news coverage is good. But they are wrong. They are all bad. The “badness” is not just due to spin or perspective, but lack of coverage. I live overseas so I wanted to listen to international news. There is no international news on TV in the States. On TV they have two types of news– American news that occurs in the States and American news that occurs outside of the States. News that is not directly related to American political or military interests is simply not shared. While I was home, the only news on TV that I saw that was International and not directly related to American interests was the volcanic eruption in Guatemala. The only major exception to this was on radio where NPR (national public radio) did actually have International news. Some of my friends would probably disapprove of NPR because of its “political slant.” But if providing a political slant is problematic, it is much less problematic than not reporting news at all. I struggle to reconcile this with news in the Philippines where its International news coverage is often quite excellent, and often far better than its home coverage. (Of course being a local journalist in the Philippines can be a dangerous thing.)
- It seems as if Memorial Day (a celebration much like Undas in the Philippines where one honors friends and relatives who have passed on before) has now become another Veteran’s Day. I am a veteran of the US Navy so perhaps I should feel good about that… but there already is a Veteran’s Day. I cannot see why we need two. I juggled my schedule to make sure that I was not preaching on Memorial Day, and I attended a Filipino church in Virginia Beach (ICCVA) that did not confuse faith and patriotism. That was nice.
Regardless, it was a joyful trip, meeting a lot of old friends, and even a few new ones. It also had its bittersweet moments— cleaning the stone monuments of relatives at the cemetery, being unable to visit people who have died over the previous 6 years, being struck by changes in places that make them feel less like home. A couple of churches I visited appeared to be struggling not to die having lost much of the younger generation. I also visited some churches that are full of vigor and growing. The stories of the death of the church in America is clearly exaggerated, but I suspect that Christians may have to learn to adapt to trends where the church will lack the honor it has had in the past (much like in many other parts of the world). I think this is part of the fear of many I met during my visit… but the church has commonly been stronger when operating in an atmosphere of dishonor.
It was nice to be home for three weeks. Home, however, is a tricky thing. I recall the gospel song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through…”. But our home is still here… and in missions I have several homes. Ivory, NY was my first home, then Virginia Beach, VA, then Charlottesville, VA, and finally Baguio City, Philippines became my fourth. Having more than one home can make one feel a bit rootless— always a stranger in a strange land— and yet, it also gives one connections in many places. It is, in some ways, a joy to have several homes.