Happy summer! The long days, warm breeze, and beautiful landscapes always make for an exciting time. Myself, I have taken time to relax by the lake, camp in Fort Ridgely State Park, camp in Rice Lake State Park, camp in Itasca State Park, hike in Grand Portage State Park, and hung out on the North Shore of Lake Superior. I don’t know if you can tell—Maggie and I love camping and hiking!
The summer is—for many—a time to get away from the day-to-day in which we’re trapped during the rest of the year. When we are caved in because of the winter blizzards and walls of ice, and when school and holidays are in full session, it’s a lot more difficult to get away, so we tend to cram all of our vacation time into the summers. This is a season of reflecting but also going-going-going. However your summer has unfolded, I hope you’ve been able to find the rest and growth for which you’ve been yearning.
As I reflect on my own vacation experience this year, and how it fits into a world completely preoccupied with Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter, I wonder about the privilege I exercise in going on vacation. The battles against the virus and racism are exhausting, as many of you know, and these fights take sacrifices of not only emotional energy but also physical and spiritual energies. They’re all-consuming, and nothing sounds more attractive than putting these battles aside for a couple weeks of vacation.
I’m not here to say that alone time or time away is a bad thing—but these battles are too pervasive to truly leave behind. We can’t leave racism behind when we travel to our favorite spots—and we know that we can’t leave our masks in the car when we visit our favorite towns. Taking vacation is not about ignoring these issues or pretending they don’t exist. If anything, the fights against Covid and racism come into even starker contrast on vacation.
Maggie and I spent a couple of days in one of our favorite towns: Grand Marais, MN is about an hour and a half northeast of Duluth on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Growing up, my family would visit this tiny town at least once a year and complete our northern excursions with hiking and camping. Grand Marais has lots of awesome boutiques—I remember buying my first ever folding knife up three at the Trading Post—and amazing food. The donut shop is called The World’s Best Donuts, and the 6:30am fresh, plain cake donuts truly live up to the name. You may have seen yellow Sven and Olie’s Pizza stickers on many car bumpers, too. This town represents, for me at least, a peaceful retreat, a place of rest and rejuvenation, and an escape from the stresses of “real life.”
This year, when we visited, I was confronted by the fact that “real life” doesn’t disappear just because I want it to. Cook county, at the time we visited, had had only one confirmed case of Covid-19. Tourists threaten all the good work the locals have been doing in this fight against the virus—all businesses required masks and social distancing. Not only this, but there are weekly Black Lives Matter demonstrations: locals stand along the main drag from 5-6pm every Friday.
I was completely surprised, but pleasantly so, to be reminded that the fight against racism extends everywhere. As tourists motor in on Friday afternoons, they’re greeted by shouts of “Justice for George Floyd” and “Black Lives Matter” and “I CAN’T BREATHE!” It sounds cliche to say, but racism doesn’t take vacation.
If you find yourself on vacation this summer, please realize that you can’t leave your baptism back home—even on vacation, you are called to care for the people around you and called to fight against every system that keeps us from loving each other and God. We can’t shout “Justice for George Floyd” one week and in the next week say, “ Ugh, I just need a break from this.” Our siblings of color have been battling this reality for hundreds of years without an opportunity to take a break. There are no breaks for God’s people.
Justice is our purpose and liberation is our lot. Our vacations can still be exciting and offer opportunities for respite—we can still find rest and rejuvenation when we remove ourselves from the regular stresses of school and work. But, vacation is not an excuse to abuse the privileges we hold to ignore the plights of others. I know it’s an exhausting, never-ending fight against this world’s brokenness—but this is the fight we claimed as our own when the waters of baptism dried on our skin. This is the fight we have struggled against our whole lives and that will claim us until our body decays.
Please, enjoy the summer season—the wonder of God’s creation comes to light in amazing ways in this time. As you consider the wonder of God’s work and make use of the longer days, I pray you also consider your place in that composition. Where do you fit in with God’s creative output? What part do you want to play—what part have you been called to play? Vacation can provide an opportunity to clarify God’s and your answers to these questions. Just like I was reminded by the locals in Grand Marais, I hope you too encounter reminders daily of the justice we are called to realize.