Charles Murray offered an April 7 PBS report called “Did you grow up in a bubble?” The premise was that we all grow up in bubbles that insulate us from the reality of the world about us, and in the case of his article, it was about how some people are insulated from the reality of main stream white American culture. I suppose it was an example of just one culture among the many from which one might be insulated. For that matter, I don’t know what main stream white American culture is, but imagine that besides white, it must be something vaguely middle class middle American. Murray, citing some of his own research, picked on New York’s Upper East Side as producing kids raised in bubbles that insulate them from the reality of the way most ordinary white Americans live; provided other examples based on zip code analysis; and offered an online quiz anyone can take that says something about the thickness of the bubble in which one lives.
Oddly enough, I think it’s related to the lessons for the Fourth Sunday of Easter that have Jesus in another conflict with temple leaders who cannot hear what he has been teaching; Peter raising a presumably dead woman and then going to stay with an unclean person in an unclean household; and an uncountable number of heavenly residents from every nation, tribe, and peoples.
The temple Sadducees could not break out of bubbles that prevented them from hearing anything Jesus had to say. It took many tries, plus the awesome power of the Resurrection, for Peter to force himself out of his own bubble to be open to the fullness of God’s presence in the lives of people who had been anathema to him. The image from Revelation of an uncountable number from everywhere without exception flies int he face of every from of exclusivism. Thick bubbles, broken bubbles, no bubbles at all. Jesus disturbs everything, and opens a new path that does’t look all that inviting. Maybe that’s why we work so hard at rebuilding the walls he has broken down, and doing it with theological confidence.
My guess is that each of us was raised in a bubble, and continues to live in one that tends to insulate us from others who are not like us. From a secular point of view, the only way to make the walls of our bubbles as thin as possible is to have a wide variety of experiences in other places with others who are not like us. Education, travel, and work are probably the most obvious ways to have them, but I’m sure there are others. Being deliberate in making connections with others not like us is one of them. From a theological point of view, it requires an honest examination of how we got to where we are, with the theme of reformation always and everywhere as our constant mantra.
It takes considerable courage to walk through the walls of our bubbles into another place. The cultural assumptions and prejudices we were raised with form barriers that are not easy to overcome. When, like Peter, some of us do break through, we find ourselves in a world surrounded by others living in their own bubbles who are deeply suspicious of those who don’t. Bubbles give the illusion of safety. Living outside them dissolves that illusion, forcing us to live trusting in God, following Christ, but in a state of physical, emotional, and spiritual vulnerability. We were always vulnerable, but now we know it, and it can be very uncomfortable.
Jesus calls us, as he called Peter, to burst our bubbles and follow him into a world where bubbles don’t exist, knowing that the path will be strewn with people in bubbles who will be disinterested or even dangerous. Like Peter, we’d rather not. We venture forth with all kinds of caveats. For instance, like so many missionaries of old, we try to make our bubbles larger to accommodate more people coaxed out of their bubbles into ours. Then we can pretend we don’t live in one. Or we find ways to thin the walls of our bubbles so that we can hear words and music coming from others yet maintain our distance. Or we venture forth but scurry back the moment we discover that people living in other bubbles are threatened by “free rangers.” It doesn’t have to work that way, and it doesn’t always. Sadly, the exceptions are few enough that most of us can name some of them.
By the way, I took the on line quiz, and came out in the mid range of bubble thickness, which, Murray says, suggests that I am open to understanding and living with others who are not like me, but not at the expense of giving up my bubble altogether. He may be right.