Are we still in Texas?

with Rev. Clay Nelson

Are we still in Texas?
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Follow this shortcut to the bottom of the page for the Welcome, Opening Hymn, Chalice Lighting, Spirit of Life, Time for All Ages, Reading, Hymn, Closing Words, Postlude, Shared Links

Clay Nelson © 13th September 2020

Living on an archipelago at the bottom of the South Pacific, the human incarnation of the kiwi, a flightless bird, has evolved into an intrepid traveller eager to fly everywhere and anywhere around the globe. To be suddenly grounded by a virus and having to spend all our time in what Trump labelled a hellhole has inspired our sense of humour to cope with our harsh conditions of incarceration. Checkout #NZhellhole on Twitter to take solace in the many ways to mock Trump with tongue-firmly-implanted-in-cheek examples of how awful it is to be so confined. We laugh but it goes against our basic nature not to travel, explore, learn, and expand our understanding of being human on a fragile planet. It explains our resorting to black humour. One of my favourites is a listing of airport codes we can travel to during the pandemic on Facebook. Instead of CDG for Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, we have DNG for the dining room. Instead of LHR for London’s Heathrow, we have BKY for the backyard. My personal favourite is MNC for mancave.

Our present plight touched on a long-forgotten memory of my very first journey. I was almost four. We were travelling from Pensacola, Florida to my grandparents’ home in San Francisco in a 1952 Chevy we had christened Betsy. I was in the backseat with my three-month-old sister. Mom was at the wheel and Dad, recently released from the hospital after contracting polio, rode shotgun. The car didn’t have a radio, but Dad would play the harmonica for our amusement. This was long before there were interstate highways that bypassed small town America. Most of the roads were just two lanes. It was a picturesque road trip but it took a long time to get from one place to the next. At the age of almost four I had no concept of a map, all I knew was it took no time at all to go through Alabama and Mississippi and not all that long to travel through Louisiana, but then we came to Texas. According to the parental version of the trip, I had an oft repeated mantra, “Are we still in Texas?” Well into my adulthood, when I was enmeshed in a seemingly interminable journey, be it a literal or metaphorical one, they would ask me with way too much smirk for my liking, if I was “still in Texas”.

It is clear from my first journey that maps are useful. A map tells you where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going — in a sense it’s three tenses in one. The first century Greek geographer, historian and philosopher, Strabo, thought they offered even more. Strabo synthesized his extensive travels into a study of geography which drew from the arts, history, the natural sciences, mathematics, and myth to direct our attention “to the useful rather than to what is famous and charming.” Maps for Strabo chart “the art of life, that is, of happiness.”

One master of the art of life was Freya Stark. She lived until she was 100. She spent most of those years on a donkey exploring southern Arabian deserts and Asia minor and writing 24 books recounting her journeys. She understood Strabo’s view of exploring geography, writing, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it.” She also understood that the journey is both external and internal, “Solitude, I reflected, is the one deep necessity of the human spirit to which adequate recognition is never given,” 

While I appreciate maps, and consider Google maps the greatest possible gift to those of us unwilling to ask for directions — that is, men — I appreciate even more those who created them. For as Jimmy Buffet observed, “Without geography, we are nowhere.” Abel Tasman didn’t have a map when he found the last blank “nowhere” spot on European maps of the world…us. He didn’t know that 300 years earlier Māori following the stars had already discovered us, but they didn’t make maps. Granted, he wasn’t looking for us but rather a large land mass rumoured to be in these parts, but thanks to him we appeared on a printed map for the first time in 1646. No, it was not very accurate, but 130 years later Captain Cook managed a remarkably accurate map of our coastline. Since then it has taken generations of countless Kiwis to fill in that outline with their personal journeys defining our identity, history, unique perspective and culture. Gilbert Grosvenor said it first, “A map is the greatest of all epic poems. Its lines and colours show the realisation of great dreams.”

But what happens to dreams when you are still in Texas without a map? When the destination is a blank spot during a pandemic, how do we dream? We know the present tense, we are in Texas. We know the past tense, the dimming memory of unrestricted travel, hugs, unmasked smiles, secure work, going shopping without fear of bringing home something not on our list. What we don’t know is the future tense. The place where dreams reside.

Scientists are warning us that even if Trump’s magical thinking comes up with an effective vaccine for Covid, the world has been made fragile by our carelessness. It has become a petri dish for the incubation of more alien viruses that will send us back to Texas.

The reality for now and the unknown future is that Texas is the liminal place to which we are consigned. All journeys are liminal. Instead of whinging about our present tense, like my four-year-old self, it might be worth embracing where we are. I know that is difficult. We live in an age of instant knowledge/communication/travel/noodles, or at least we used to. Until recently we were used to arriving at solutions, desires and destinations quickly and efficiently. But there is a cost to forsaking winding two-lane back roads with their one-way bridges following a rugged terrain for the motorway. We miss a lot of beautiful landscapes that, should we map our personal journeys, would be blank spots. If we used liminal time to explore them, we might discover it is where our dreams reside.

Let us be the Strabos, Starks, Tasmans, Cooks and Māori of our generation. Having only the stars to guide us let make this difficult journey a time for mapmaking. Who knows what we will discover about ourselves? Author Mark Jenkins observes that “Maps encourage boldness. They’re like cryptic love letters. They make anything seem possible.” Future generations may thank us.

Conversation


Links

Words of Welcome include “We Travel This Road Together”
By Tess Baumberger

Opening Hymn:- “Come whoever you are”, a video posted by UU Santa Monica

Virtual Chalice Lighting is “As We Travel in Unknown Lands”
By Barnaby Feder

“Spirit of Life” by Carolyn McDade. Performed by the Virtual Choir of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, NC, USA
Time for all ages:- “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson

Adult Reading: “The Journey” by Mary Oliver

Hymn:- “There Is More Love Somewhere” is an African American Spiritual.
Vocals by Rev. Joanna Lubkin for All Souls UU Church of Braintree, MA, USA.

Closing Words are “Let Us Begin Again in Love”
By Lois Van Leer

Postlude:- “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers. Performed by Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout, Director of Worship & Music,
Allison Halerz, Pianist-in-Residence, UUAA – First UU Congregation of Ann Arbor, MI, USA.

Shared Links

Links were provided by participants for discussion purposes, inclusion in this list does not signify endorsement of the linked content by Auckland Unitarian Church.

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