I wanted to devote longer space to something I thought about quite a lot on our anniversary trip. There was lots of time and space to think about important things, to reflect on our past decade together and what the next decade will hold. For example, I kept thinking about how grateful I was to be able to go on this trip when I’m 31. I have had bad knees since I was in fourth grade. I try to take care of myself, but I don’t know how many of these hikes I could have done ten or twenty years from now.
But one thing I kept coming back to was the remarkable privilege tied up in this trip for my wife and I. Talking about privilege is pretty much anathema in modern, white conservative culture. And I think many people would look at our trip over there and say, “Where’s the privilege there?! You worked for that!” And it’s true. I did. We did. I did extra work and I saved and saved and saved. No one really gave us any money to go on this trip. I worked and I saved and I paid for the plane tickets and the lodging and the food… everything. There’s a temptation to feel no small measure of pride.
I looked out over the mountains, though, and I was amazed by what I saw. And maybe just as much as that, I was amazed by what I observed in my own life. The amount of privilege that carried me to be able to get to that point is as nearly as breathtaking as the Alps.
Let’s start with logistics: Our kids. We did not take our kids on this trip. We had family watch our three kids. The fact that we had not just one side of the family that would do this for us, but a whole other side that would have also been willing to watch our kids for ten days is such a rare and wonderful thing. And they weren’t somewhere that we had to worry about their well-being (well, ok, we were a little worried that our son might wander under the hooves of a cow because he is a maniac and he is obsessed with cows). We knew they were having outrageous amounts of fun. What a remarkable privilege to have family like that.
Time- I have a salaried full-time job with paid vacation. How remarkable! Lots of people have full-time jobs. They work very hard. And they do not have paid vacation. The decision that my position should have paid vacation was not my own. It wasn’t even really my church’s. It was my denomination’s decision. And that philosophy isn’t one they invented. I have inherited a tradition of giving people paid leave. I did not earn that. Wonderful privilege.
Money- No one paid for this trip except me. However. I am surrounded by so many things that have been paid for by others. My education was paid for by my parents and then by people who supported us in grad school. Plenty of the furniture in our house was given to us. Vehicles, house, clothes… so much was just straight up given to me because it was being passed on or… just because. How much has been given to my family over the past ten years is unbelievably humbling. A privilege.
Really, though, I thought about the most profound and subtle privilege that I’ve inherited from my parents. My parents raised me to believe that seemingly unattainable places, things, goals, they’re all possible. They’ve quietly buttressed that belief materially and emotionally for my entire life. They raised me to be a person that could look at a postcard of the Alps and say, “I want to go there and I can go there.” For many of us, that is our story. We have been told and shown that almost anything is possible with work (and a mound of help from previous generations). That is such a delightfully strange belief though. I was overwhelmed with gratitude on several occasions that I have the parents that I have that have opened up incredible doors for me simply by making me believe that this kind of thing is possible. Forget all the money and the things that have been given to me, this conviction, this freedom is one of the most powerful forms of privilege I can name.
There’s two reasons I bring up this theme of privilege:
1. We need to stop being afraid or angry about talking about privilege. Recognizing that many of us in the United States are born into enormous privilege, and some of us more than many others, does not mean that we’re saying that everything was handed to us. I really did have to work and save for years to be able to go on this trip. I went to college and then graduate school and volunteered and worked to be able to have the job that I do. I wrote all my own papers and did all of my own studying. That part of the equation is mine. But there were uncontrollable variables in the equation that were set in my favor simply by virtue of my birth. Pretending that we have everything we have because of the virtue of our own labor is hubris in the extreme. And it is worth evaluating how deeply we may be guided by those uncontrollable variables in the equation. There are very many people who see a picture of a beach or the Alps or whatever and they simply cannot believe that those things will ever be for them. For one, they may be right. It really may be impossible for any number of reasons. But most pressingly, no one has created a culture of belief that these kinds of things are attainable even by hard work. That dynamic is real. And it is powerful.
2. I am so, so grateful. I’m grateful for everything that has been given to us by sheer, unmerited gift. I’m grateful for my in-laws, for my job that gives me time, for all of the finances that people have supported us with from birth to now. I’m grateful for the free kitchen table that we sit to eat at. I’m grateful that (as of right now) my parents just gave us their old Ford Expedition once it got up near 200K miles… and it’s still running! I’m grateful for our bodily health so that Erin and I could go on hikes and travel relatively easily, even with her being pregnant! I’m so, so thankful for my parents that grew into new experiences themselves and then pulled me and my siblings into new ones as well. I’m so thankful to God for those moments where the wind quietly swirled around my face and I could just stare at those towering peaks. I have no idea why I have been given so much. I have no idea why I have so many other blessings in my life. I have no idea why we have a family where three happy, healthy kids waited for us to come home and were happy to be with us again. I have no reason for such absurd grace. But I’m so grateful. Every good gift comes down from the Father of lights and we have been showered with shimmering goodness. I cannot boast in the work of my hands. I cannot be prideful. I am bowed down by gratitude.
I really don’t know if we’ll ever go on a trip like this again. I don’t expect we’ll be able to. And I’m sure that in the days ahead, I’ll find reasons to be prideful and boastful and discontent and anxious. But I have photo after photo to remind me that God has been gracious and generous to me. I have no reason to complain. No reason to fear. I am so, so privileged to be known by God and blessed in this way. To know God is the highest of all privileges. As good as all of these things and experiences have been for me, as grateful as I am, there is no greater blessing than God himself. All this goodness… simply signposts to the Source. I’m praying that all this privilege, all this unmerited goodness, will push me low, make me bowed down, so that I might never delude myself into believing that I’m a self-made man. I’m a recipient of extravagant goodness.
What a privilege.