Hi America, I’ve missed you. It’s been too long.
I flew from Manchester (high 50’s, rain) to Philadelphia (low 90’s, dry and humid). My carrier was US Airlines, a good start: the warm outgoing professionalism of the hostesses, not to mention the accents, put me in the mood, which was in no way dampened by having to trek for miles along airport corridors on arrival (couldn’t get a direct flight). Philly airport, like many in the States, is designed around the requirement for a separate terminal per airline; it was a ? ¾ mile trip by courtesy coach between terminals A & F, then another half mile walk to F22…all of which gave me orientation time. Advertisements for health care provision, baseball games, films that won’t be released in Britain for another six months, the various reminders of what’s different in this culture.
I provide my fingerprints for an American Homeland Security database, not to mention having my shoes checked for concealed explosives and the latptop on which I’m writing this examined in case it’s a detonator. The process is quick and I’m soon through customs, but you know what? If I were a terrorist I wouldn’t even think of flying into America now. I’d fly to Mexico then sneak in across the border into Texas, the way loads of illegal immigrants do who are currently the focus of a Dubya initiative to do something popular before the mid-term elections, at which the Republicans look set to take a pounding. Even this is threatening to backfire – where would the economy of Texas be without its illegals?
Andy, my wonderful host and old friend, takes me to a local American diner, “Ruby Tuesday”. I fancy a visit to its amazing salad bar (choice of 18 dressings); I order a veggie burger to go with it then wish I hadn’t because this is an American burger, 3 times the size of what you might get in England, tastes like it might be home made, interestingly herb-and-spicy. I leave most of my fries and I’ve still eaten too much. I wash it all down with a white chocolate/cold coffee smoothie. Don’t think you get those in England but hey, I’m going to check. Service quick and gracious, the waiter talks as though he really does, from the bottom of his heart, long that we both have a nice day and if there were anything else he could provide for us it would make his day. If anyone spoke like that to you in England you’d think he was a ham actor; in America it might still be the way he’s been trained, but it feels sincere. Weird.
Andy talks about his church in Ellicott City, Maryland, where he’s been pastor for well over twenty years. Talks of its mission teams going to help with relief work in Louisiana after the hurricanes; talks of the food store their folks support, and about the confirmation service this Sunday coming – about 45 confirmands. I mention creationism. He responds like it’s something other people were getting excited about at the time of the Dover judgement last fall, but not now, and not in the culture he knows, it’s just not an issue. He does some teaching at a Washington seminary, and it’s not an issue there either; what IS an issue is homosexuality, so no change there either side of the Atlantic, but the battle lines are drawn up just a little differently here from how I suspect they will be in the South.
Andy speaks about an ageing ministry – too many within a sniff of retirement – and reports some denominational decline. Of course, the fundies would say, that’s because his Church doesn’t preach the true Gospel. I think that’s a slur on one of the finest preachers I know but I guarantee there’ll be no true Gospel preaching this Sunday morning. That’s because the Snake’s preaching, and will I be having an incidental dig at creationists, just to illustrate a valid hermeneutical point of course? Can a duck swim. Besides, I genuinely want to gauge the reaction.
This is affluent East coast America, not wild about Bush, and not unduly concerned if at all with the number of dinosaurs that might have been accommodated on the Ark.