I’m going through a bit of culture shock. I’ve been back to the U.S. once a year for the past few years to see my family, but this year I’m combining visits to church synods and a general assembly, on behalf of the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands, and therefore a lot of travel through the U.S., with a vacation at the end in Boston at my parents’ apartment in Boston.
It’s been a fruitful trip till now. I’ve greeted our sister-church, the Reformed Church in the U.S., at their Synod in Rapid City, South Dakota, and our contact-church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, at their General Assembly in Wheaton, Illinois, near Chicago. And now we’re heading for Nyack, New York, near New York City, where I hope to greet the United Reformed Churches in North America, at their Synod. During these gatherings, and travelling to them, Margreet and I have seen a lot of America, travelling by car. South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and now Pennsylvania, and the big cities of Kansas City and St. Louis in Missouri, and Chicago in Illinois.
I am impressed by the size of this, my country. It’s one thing to see how big the U.S. is on the map. It’s another to drive through it. Big spaces, big distances, never-ending prairies, never-ending traffic jams (in Chicago).
I still feel an American. Yet I’m experiencing a growing sense of cultural alienation. All these obese people driving to all these drive-in fast-food restaurants in the endless “strips” bordering every exit to every highway, waddling in and out to get their food “fixes,” like some weird overweight zombies. All these restaurants and the ugly cheap “hotels” (which we are using as places to stay), with their mindless, stereotype architecture, surrounded by acres of empty asphalt: is this supposed to be the envy of the world?
Not everything is numbingly disgusting in America. Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, is a shimmering oasis of beauty, with beautiful old mansions and their shining green lawns, under spectacular, huge, ancient trees. But Oak Park is surrounded by decrepit, depressing, tree-free slums full of black people who seem to be hopeless refugees in their own country.
The few rich enjoy their beautiful mansions. The many poor try to hold on. The great middle class is nauseatingly obese and aspires only to a trip to McDonald’s as its highest goal.
Is this the America I am a supposed to be proud of? Kim