Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bike Ride

Last night I took a bike ride. Two miles south, two miles west, two miles north, and two miles east. I left a little before eight o’clock, as the sun was setting and another evening settled over the fields and homes. Here are a few things I saw and thought about:

1.The Earth and People. Land itself is the same anywhere. Land does what it does, no matter the country, the continent, or even the geography. It stays put and sustains creatures that dwell upon it. Humans dominate the land. We build structures on it, ascribe monetary value to it, dig ditches and tunnels in it, alter it to plant crops, drive over it, and create systems of laws and regulations that hover over it. But in a sense the land itself remains indifferent to all those things. It stays put and sustains creatures that dwell upon it.

2.The Barrios of Caracas.
I have a friend who serves with a Christian order called Innerchange and has lived in Caracas for three years. Last time she visited Chicago, she spoke about how in the barrios nobody goes out after 7pm. If you do, you know that anybody else you see on the street is up to no good. She also spoke of a recently murdered taxi driver, the last person she saw before she entered the airport on her most recent trip to the States.

There are many places in the world where people are restricted by forces alien to the farmland that is my home. Growing up, I did not worry about violence when I played in front of my house. I never knew any victims of murder. Ever since my parents allowed me to, I’ve been able to take a quite bike ride as the sun sets. In fact, historian James E. Davis contends in his book Frontier Illinois that the history of the Illinois territory displays a remarkable lack of violence compared to the other states in the Old Northwest and the Western frontier. Why are some humans born into communities on quite prairies and others born into violent ghettos? Is one of these really better than the other? Are both marked by sin and oppression manifesting themselves in different forms?

3.Being a Political Actor. I lack political identity. In fact, I’ve never voted. I go back and forth between feeling that this is justifiable and that it is an embarrassment. It is justifiable because underneath the daily political antics we absorb through the media are foundational ideas about human nature and social organization (which are naturally theological ideas as well). A citizen’s political actions should grow up from a firm grounding in these foundational concepts, not solely from the way that certain pieces of legislation effect their own lives or their immediate community. I am not yet grounded enough to discern what things should matter most, thus to not vote is better than to vote poorly. It is justifiable.

However, the responsibility to become grounded and therefore active lies on me as a citizen. To be lazy in this regard is an embarrassment. And in a sense, a bike ride around my township is part of the process of gaining political identity, for law is ultimately an intangible force that translates into certain actions and patterns of life in a geographic area. Some historians call it “officialdom.” It is created by certain people in certain places and extends across thousands of miles of land, land that has sustained generations of people.

How can one be a responsible member of a community or nation without searching out the voices of people passed and people present? For rural people who are looking, I believe these two groups meet in the local landscape. A run down corn crib overgrown with foliage and tilting on its sinking foundation. A quite house on the corner with a giant flat screen TV flashing away through the living room window. A farmer mixing chemicals in a giant plastic tub and spraying it on his corn, twelve rows at a time. A pair of Killdeers gliding and swooping over newly sprouting soybeans. Dozens of yards with long, straight lines etched in the short grass.

These are only a tiny representation of the sights, sounds, and smells over which the people, through their elected officials, extend their rule. Perhaps, however, it is as necessary to stay connected to them as it is to follow the perpetual babble of legislators and media.