My Cuba Reflection
By Jessie Light
Senior student from Kansas City
Many people describe visiting Cuba as “traveling back in time”—a sort of romanticized, nostalgic experience complete with riding in vintage Chevrolets, disconnecting from Wi-Fi, and wandering through streets of colonial fortresses juxtaposed with communist-era block apartments.
My experience of Cuba felt more akin to temporarily existing in an alternate dimension, in which familiarity and alienation jarringly co-mingle. This is, of course, an incredibly generalized statement about a complex week in which our group merely dipped our toes in the shallow end of Cuba’s rich pools of culture, context, and history. However, my biggest realization while wading in the waters was this: political systems are flawed creations that are bound by finitude, no matter what. I’ll be honest: I was rather taken by Cuba’s socialist system for the first few days of our trip. Imagine preaching to a church of people who are all guaranteed food, housing, and health care—Matthew 25 is no longer a “controversial” text, it is nearly reality! Perhaps community is more abundantly realized when the competitive spirits are laid aside and care for the vulnerable is prioritized.
And yet, the guarantee of goods and services does not do away with poverty, and often fails to create space for choice, freedom, and access to the globalized world. In many ways, it seems, the failings of capitalism are the strengths of socialism, and vice versa. Clearly the comparison is much more nuanced in reality, but traveling to Cuba—this alternate dimension a mere 90 miles from Florida’s coast—offered a beneficial, critical lens through which to perceive and analyze the shortcomings of the economic and political systems operating within the U.S.
On our way to a contextual Bible study, our bus driver drove us through a neighborhood in Havana where local artists have covered the walls and streets in vibrant mosaics inspired by Antoni Gaudi, the daring and imaginative architect who transformed Barcelona. The church in Cuba describes itself as practicing a sort of “Theology of the Absurd,” in which God calls one to hope amidst absurdity. Could it be that this is the season for us to adopt a similar theology? There is much to be learned from our Cuban siblings—and our own understandings of God and the world can and will be enriched by their experiences and stories.