The other day, I randomly met a young lady from England. Like me, she was twenty-four and had recently graduated from college. We chatted for a little while (thankful to meet anyone who spoke fluent English) and during the conversation, she mentioned that she had studied abroad for a summer in America.
“Oh Really!” I said, “What did you think of America?”
She did not even need time to think. In her delightful British accent she replied, “I would describe America as big. Everything in America just seems big. It is like the whole goal was for everything to be enormous.”
I had never heard it put so plainly, but I immediately knew how true it was. William, my roommate the history teacher, informed me that this is one of the most common things foreigners say on surveys when they visit the USA for the first time.
America. The houses are big, and the yards are big. The national parks and the malls are big. The cars are big and the chairs are big. The chemically enhanced fruit is big. The problems are big and the disagreements are big. The beds are big. The stores are big, and the debt is big. The churches are big, and the Christian conferences are really big. The people are big because the food is big. The public restrooms are big. The stalls in the public restrooms are big. The toilets in the stalls in the public restrooms are big, probably to accommodate…well…the big people.
If you haven’t had a chance to travel much outside of America, you can take my word for it.
If bigger is better, America is the best. But sometimes from the perspective of being in Madagascar it is just feels…BIG and that’s about all there is to say about it. Of course, I know that isn’t true and that in the midst of all the bigness, there are people and things and culture with substance and value. America has its glaring faults, which I think anyone can acknowledge, but I don’t want to be someone who comes back to the USA and can only be a cynical fault-finder. I think that kind of cynicism would simply be a masked form of pride, that assumes I am somehow outside the bigness simply because I can identify it and complain about it. I am typing this on a pretty big laptop after all (with a pretty big crack in it).
Becoming overly cynical would also be a form of unbelief—unbelief that sees a big America with big problems that forgets that we serve a bigger God who is currently at work in his people in America, even when it is hard to see. He is big enough to use and change any situation for his glory.
I’m resolving to offer no cynical criticism of our big, admittedly problematic, America that is not joined with equally big, believing, and grateful prayer. Here’s praying and trusting that, in the future, my homeland is less known for its bigness, and more for the depth, character, and godliness of the people and culture it contains.