I’m in the Lehigh Valley airport on a cold morning. I dropped my daughter off at school as usual, and then my wife dropped me off at the airport. I’ll be back in ten days, but it is always hard to leave my family behind as I go off a new adventure. And this one raises more anxiety than most because I will be in Cuba in just a few days. I was born in 1960, not long after the revolution in Cuba and just before the fiasco called the Bay of Pigs. I was too young to understand the missile crisis, but it frightened my brother and sisters so much they still talk about being children under the shadow of mushroom clouds. For my whole life Cuba has been a closed country to Americans. So close, and yet it always seemed as far away as the Ukraine. Our nations made us enemies. Politics, economics, global strategic initiatives, Olympic competitions, forbidden cigars. This is all I knew. But now I am on my way to teach seminars in Cuba for Protestant pastors who are creating a new Moravian province in a country that was once hostile to religion. It is exciting and a little frightening.
Before I go to Cuba, though, I am going to Austin, Texas for the Modern Languages Association annual convention. I’ve wanted to go to Austin for years. For the music, the food, the spirit of independence. But I have to admit that in recent years Texas has seemed like a foreign country. I read the news about Texas politics and listen to presidential candidates and congressmen, and I wonder. I read about Texans being afraid that the US Army is going to invade and I wonder what is going on. People talk about Texas seceding from the Union, and I wonder if they know that secession did not go well the first time they did it. So, which trip will be the most strange: Cuba or Texas?
In Texas I’ll be presenting an academic paper (only 20 minutes, please!) on the theme of happiness in Moravian literature in the 18th century. “We have nothing to do, but be happy,” Zinzendorf wrote in 1742. In Cuba, I will have 8 hours of class for 3 solid days teaching Moravian Church history and Moravian theology. But most of all, I am going to learn. To breathe in the air of two foreign lands. To hear how people of faith try to live out their faith. And, of course, to leave behind the cold in Bethlehem. I hope the family will be alright while I’m gone. I hope I didn’t forget to pack anything.