American spirituality

I lived for a time in the United States. In fact it was the American south, hot bed of church attendance and religious devotion. It seemed everyone went to church in the town of Americus, Georgia, its population then around 10,000, roughly the same size as Truro. I worked for Habitat for Humanity headquarters in the Public Relations Department and did some very basic work on houses (base boards) on the weekends. I played in a church softball league, yes this town had so many churches and so many young people in those churches they could support a large and competitive softball league. I remember the player-coach of the Baptist team we Habitat players were facing one hot Friday night leading his crew in a prayer behind the stands, “God, we know it is in your hands whether we win or whether we lose, but you know we want to win, and you know that is written on our hearts. Give us strength to do your will and glorify your name in what we do tonight. Amen!” This man’s earnest tone and strong voice could lead you to no other conclusion than he meant every word he said, the resounding “Amen” by his team, likewise.

Americans of all spiritual description like to argue about religion. They have their arguments over religion in a much more open and public way than we Canadians. The first thing you’ll notice when you cross the border is the abundance of bumper stickers. And many of these are about religion, from the left and the right wing perspective. This is one of my favorites, from the 2008 Presidential election

I have thought about this difference, the American zealous approach to spiritual matters and the Canadian laid back and informal nature of religious talk. I think this is consistent with the American approach to all things, relentless pushing, striving, and an entrepreneurial belief that one person’s effort can and should make a huge difference. As Canadians we shrug with a hardy sense of reality and small dose of cynicism at this grandiose notion of what an individual can do, the impact an individual can make. In our country with a large land mass and small population we rely on a collective approach to solve our problems and regard the individual initiative a little like the boy with his finger in the dyke. But in the United States there is a baked in narrative to the power of the individual, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

While I find this American narrative naïve and more than a little arrogant I must tell you that living in the United States, working in a non-profit, the can-do spirit of Americans, of all demographics and beliefs, refreshing and even inspiring. There was never a problem we faced that someone didn’t say, “I know what we can do” and instantly the group was leaning in and getting excited.

In Canada we favour peace, order and good government. I prefer this mantra. But I do lament there are days when our approach drifts from peace and order straight to government, meaning the government will fix it. On this day when our southern neighbours celebrate their country in mad and even garish ways let us remember what the world really does value about Americans, their can-do spirit and their faith in their own initiative to make a difference for someone, anyone.