The Back to the Future trilogy is part of my personal canon. I mean who doesn’t love hover boards and Huey Lewis & the News? But for all of its whimsy, it makes a profound statement about human fathoming. The films are a meditation on the paradox that, although “the grass is always greener on the other side,” “there is no place like home.”
Whether we choose to dream of the frontier, head to Tomorrowland, or go back to when our elders were kids, the detour leads us to consider what’s before us today.
This wouldn’t be such a big deal were we not so dang good at trying to be everywhere but (the) present.
Where We’re Going…
For the last few months, I’ve been reflecting on the words of Jeremiah C. Sulunteh, an economics professor and Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States. Last October, he made a brief address at Elizabethtown College. The headlines of the day demanded that he speak about the Ebola outbreak that has been devastating his country.
Ambassador Sulunteh’s appeared uninterested in finding a magical cure for Ebola. It was on developing the roads and infrastructure necessary for dealing with the virus. In his plea for “boots on the ground,” he wasn’t just thinking of the heroic “Ebola Fighters,” but also the building contractors, engineers, and teachers that make the medical industry work—the mundane jobs that so many developed/first-world/[insert choice superlative here] countries take for granted.
Most unsettling about the ambassador’s comments was that they didn’t really leave anyone with an out. There was no “This isn’t my specialty” or “I didn’t major in that.” At least momentarily, he had us believe that we might be part of the problem, that we could be part of the solution, and that the next move was certainly ours.
We don’t need roads?
Arguably, a similar discursive move is made at the interstices of Back to the Future I & II. At the end of the first film, we see scientist Emmett Brown and company preparing to jet set from 1985 to 2015, proclaiming how, in the future, we won’t need roads.
But then in the beginning of the second film, we see the protagonists driving on “the skyway,” maneuvering around its signs and boundaries.
Doc Brown thought he was beyond roads, but he was using them the whole time. I suppose that it often takes an odyssey to realize where you are and what you’ve been doing.
There’s No Place Like Home
It’s hard to believe that I have been posting here intermittently since 2006. This blog began as a seminary project to figure out what I was going to do with my life. It turned into my graduate school scratchpad in 2009, and morphed into my scholarship portfolio in 2014. Maybe the latter is what it has always been.
As 2015 kicks off, I just want to say thanks to those of you who have been following me here at Sowing the Seed, @seedpods (on Twitter and recently, Instagram), and elsewhere. Throughout 2015, I’ll be transforming my site into a personal magazine. I’ll continue with the (near) weekly posts and external essays. And I’ll also be sharing some of the good stuff that I’ve been coming across online and elsewhere.
What I guess I’ve come to realize is that I’m most at home in germinating fruitful conversations about religion and culture—both in and outside of the classroom. Here and now in 2015, that fruitfulness entails getting my personal public to think about our problems, our cures, and how they work. We may not think we need roads, but we’re using them all the time.
There have been and always will be bumps in the road, but I appreciate you sticking around through all the site’s turns. I have learned a lot from you, and I look forward to more in the future.
Richard Newton, PhD is curator of Sowing the Seed and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College. His scholarship focuses on the anthropology of scriptures.