David Brooks has an excellent column in the New York Times on the Bruce Springsteen song, “We take care of our own”.
I concur with much of what Brooks writes, though as a Canadian I am not as concerned as he about a kind of melting pot motif for the nation-state. I think what holds Canada together is the secular Commandment “peace, order and good government.”
As a matter of social cohesion I am less troubled by whether immigrants learn “our ways” and more concerned about whether all Canadians, new or long-time residents, take a serious interest in each other. I do hear long-time residents complain that new Canadians spend too much time with “their own”, that there is a challenge to the identity of our country when pockets of our populations fail to integrate into the larger whole. But if I could push back a little, the same kind of criticism could be made of long-time residents. It’s amazing to me that in this diverse and vibrant country of ours we spend so much of our time with like-minded persons.
There are our families, we repeat to ourselves the mantras “family first” and “charity begins at home” like somehow this is wisdom that cannot/should not be challenged. Yet the most popular religion in Canada, the religion that had its fingerprints all over the founding and development of this country, Christianity, is founded on the teachings of a man who said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
It’s odd to me that so many churches call themselves a “family church” and the photos of the people in the church focus on lovely families; mom, dad, a boy and a girl. Again remember when Jesus is told his mother and brothers are waiting outside to see him he responds, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers”? Hardly the stuff of Mother’s Day cards and Family church promotions.
My understanding of Jesus and his message is summed up in the law that is above all others, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbour as you love yourself”. For me the connecting tissue of this Commandment is to find this Divine affection in the consideration of others and yourself. Because agape love is considered the highest form of love, higher and deeper than the love of friends and lovers, the Commandment seems clear to me. Agape love is self-giving love, when one lays down one’s life for the other, when one considers the other a sister or brother, when one opens one’s self to the needs and experiences of the other.
What makes faith such a powerful experience for me is the notion that we are all connected on a deeper level, that my importance to the Creator is no less and no more than anyone else who breathes in the Creation’s life-giving spirit. And what unites us, what holds us together, is not a common ethnicity or particular culture but rather an attitude or atmosphere of mutual consideration and hospitality.
Isn’t it fascinating that the common way all of the world’s great religions talk about love and affection is through the common meal? The common meal symbolizes how we listen and care for one another. It’s how we take care of our own. That is room around the table for everyone and anyone.