Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Larger Community

So I keep chasing the idea of community. I'm pretty well convinced that the pursuit of individual fulfillment is inimical to community: even while I seek to do that which is fullfilling and significant. I see also a basic problem with the anti-authority binge baby boomers (me!) did so well. (I took a personality test on the Piaget-Kohlberg stuff once: scored as making decisions on principle, rather than legalistically: felt really good about it! Then the test asked one last question, which revealed that at least some of my oh so principled choices were actually just a manifestation of my distrust for authority. Ouch!)

So, along with a life lived protesting government actions and the seemingly arbitrary decisions of church and business authorities (to name only three sources of dissent), I find myself arguing that we need the community that come from patriotism and school spirit and general commitment to the larger group.

Are there any conditions? Should we just commit to the larger group and then look for the utopia to follow? We need at least one larger commitment: to the human family. As a Christian I subsume this commitment within my commitment to God; but speaking in purely human terms, speaking simply as a person regardless of religious commitment, that person who does not have a fundamental commitment to the good of the whole human family is dangerous indeed.

The point is obvious. If allegiance to a school (since I have been writing about school spirit) were to run so unchecked as to take priority over allegiance to our country, we would recognize it as flawed. If in the name of Penn State one were to fight, and even seek to destroy, supporters and alumni of Pitt, the police would step in and the courts would take away one's freedom.

Speaking as a member of the worldwide community, we have come dangerously close as Americans to acting like such deranged Penn State fans, except with bigger weapons. Perhaps that sense of caution that is so typically Canadian is a necessary ingredient for a truly good patriotism to flourish. I love the USA, and I love Canada: but I love both as part of the whole human family. I call my country to account when we step outside the bounds of being good members of the international community because I love my country, and because it is mine.

In short, to realize community at home, within the context of my larger political community, in the country that is mine own, I am a citizen of earth; I am part of the human family. I am also, and even more deeply, a citizen of Heaven, and believe that only as a citizen of heaven can I truly love my country rightly.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

What Is Community Anyway?

I said some time back that there is something sacred about community. North American society, both in the USA and in Canada, has been on a long trajectory towards individualism, even at the expense of community. My generation (1960s baby boomers) used to talk about dropping out to find ourselves. as though our identity was floating around the world waiting for us to catch up with it and internalize it. Supreme individualism! As I observed a few posts back, Canada has as its central constitutional document The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, based on the value and rights of the individual almost without regard to the larger community.

That is of course an overstatement: the notwithstanding clause, for example, is a tribute to the desire to strengthen community at the provincial level; continuing conversations about "unique societies", whether in Quebec or in Nunavut, reflect the same desire to preserve community. But the stronger force in our society is the push towards individualism, and that force is destructive of human community unless it flowers within a commitment to the larger whole.

The common saying from southern Africa is: "A person becomes fully human in and through community." At some level we all know the truth here: that we need each other. We know also that people search for community insistently, even as it slips away from us. Whether in church youth groups discovering the value of true community, or in voluntary associations (clubs of different kinds), or in immigrant communities that seek to maintain something of their ethnic identity after moving to Canada -- repeatedly we hold on to each other. As we must.

But figuring out what really makes community is even harder than finding it. Because our communities, even our identity as Canadians, are essentially voluntary, people routinely leave community behind: then we wonder how we lost what we gave up. I'm struggling to figure out what this thing really is. I remember reading Bonhoeffer on community: profound (whatever he said), and hard to penetrate.

I wonder if some sort of real final commitment is necessary: to God (citizens of Heaven), to country ("Breathes there a man with soul so dead ...."), to something or someone big enough to encompass our whole life. I don't know: I think it is, but I don't know. I'm pretty sure that if there's anything less at the centre of our lives, the individual will beat the centre by default.

Monday, January 22, 2007

An Individualistic Socialism?

In a casual conversation about the last post, a friend observed that those countries I identify as highly individualistic are also among the more socialist in the world. Certainly that is true of Canada. Canadians expect more of government than Americans do. As another friend said some years ago, "Americans value life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; Canadians value peace, order and good government." "Good government" sounds like an oxymoron to many Americans, for whom the only good government is less government.

Thus Canadians willingly pay significantly higher taxes than our American cousins -- and expect more from our government, from paying for health care to paying for education.

I thought of this point when I ran across a recent news story, which stated that Manitoba is the most generous of the provinces in terms of charitable giving, but ranks behind 26 other states in the USA. The Fraser institute did the study, and concluded: "Americans gave 1.67 per cent of their aggregate personal income to charity, more than double the 0.72 per cent of the total personal income Canadians donated to charity."

One could conclude that Americans are more generous than Canadians, a view at odds with Canadian self-perception. I suggest that our belief that the government can and should take care of so much (that is: socialism) is at least as important a factor.

In the end these points all revolve around trying to understand ourselves as Canadians. We have embraced the concept of good government, that government has a responsibility to take care of its people. Perhaps a sense of entitlement is one way that this basic socialism coincides with the individualism that is also basic to our society.

Canadians have shown our good qualities in many arenas of our world. But there is a corresponding weakness to our relative courtesy and good neighbourliness (compared to brash Americans). We can be as self-centred as anyone, when we put our minds to it.

I do wonder if we will push back against the forces of radical individualism. We may yet do that. But then we will have to find out what really does bind us together. And in a nation of immigrants, even more intentionally immigrant than the USA, finding common ground is a difficult task.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Committing -- Canadian Style

Part 1 (nothing to do with the title):

I actually typed this post last night, but lost the post through misunderstanding the way tht Blogger works. It is annoying to think and type and reach the point of publish, only to lose the whole. But I have been processing these particular thoughts for a few weeks, so re-writing them is perhaps a good thing, however frustrating.

Part 2 (the actual post):
Some posts ago I observed that Canadian universities exhibit less school spirit than their American counterparts, and that this reticence mirrors the overt patriotism of Americans as compared to the understated Canadian version.

I have asked a number of Canadian friends for explanations, without real success. Like defining what it means to be a Canadian, we are reticent with reasons for our laid-back approach to life. In this context I advance one possible explanation. It is at best partial, and cannot be the whole reason; but if I am right in my diagnosis, it is an important feature of our national character, and source of significant problems in our lives together.

It is a commonplace in the study of culture that Western societies generally have built on the rights and dignity of the individual. The Declaration of Independence in the United States begins: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. We (Americans) have (as I have heard a commentator observe) fought a war to determine whether or not “all men” includes Black people”, and worked through a difficult period we call the suffragette movement to determine whether or not “all men” includes men and women. We have, so far, concluded that the term is inclusive. (For a separate post: the next struggle may be to determine whether the term “all men” means people from all nations, or “all Americans”.)

My own hunch is that Canadian society has taken this emphasis on emphasis on the individual further than most countries in the world. I don’t know who else has gone as far as we (Canadians) have: perhaps some of the Scandinavian countries; perhaps the Netherlands. One the whole, however, I suggest that we have gone further than anyone else, although we are all going in the same direction.

In Canada this emphasis on the individual is enshrined in The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with its repeated phrasing of “everyone” or “each individual”. One particular product of our Charter rights is the Privacy Legislation, which has worked out in surprising ways in the past years. I teach at Providence College and Seminary. If I ask where a particular student is, so as to give him/her a message, the school is not allowed to answer the question, not even to say if the student is in class or not. The student’s privacy is held to be infringed by telling me where he/she is. One can multiply examples: the depressed patient released from a Winnipeg hospital, which was not allowed to inform his family – even though the patient went out and committed suicide.

In theory, the rights of the individual and the importance of the larger community are held in balance. In practice, I suggest, the rights of the individual generally trump community in Canada. The Liberal Party of Canada articulates this emphasis in the first sentence of its section on philosophy on its web page: “The Liberal Party of Canada believes that the dignity of each individual man and woman is the fundamental principle of democratic society. All political organization and activity emanates from this guiding principle.” In this respect I suggest that all of the political parties are essentially the same, reflecting a radical emphasis on the rights of the individual, unique in the history of human societies.

What does all of this have to do with school spirit, or patriotic fervour? One aspect of a radical individualism is its reluctance to commit to the larger community. I suggest that in this respect Americans are more oriented to the larger community and Canadians are more oriented to the individual self.

There are positive and negative aspects of our national characters for both Americans and Canadians. This reluctance to commit to the larger group within the Canadian psyche is, of course, a matter of tendency only: Canadians have committed deeply in the past, and within every local community many individuals commit to club, to church, to group of friends. But even after I add all the qualifiers, I remain uncomfortable with this piece of my Canadian self: reluctance to commit to the larger community. True enough that American patriotism shows its own dark side in the willingness to follow a leader into military action overseas; but selfish individualism is no cure for misguided patriotism.

In the end, I will continue singing along to “Jerusalem”, and “Fight On, Penn State!”

Monday, January 15, 2007

Kinetic Chaos

Pictures hung in disarray
Long wall with rhyme and reason plenty, but
Pictures hung in disarray

Drainer full of dishes piled
Sink as full, replete with repast past
Dishes piled in disarray

Order fills the greater halls
Chaos fills the tiny walls within
A great grand narrative of order, beauty
A thousand acts of chaos bound by duty
To fill out the Great Hall of
Rhyme and Reason and Rithmetic
My mind, my self fights with overpowering chaos
Scarcely aware of rhyming reason bounding All
Pictures straightened hang on One Great Wall
Dishes done, laid out in grand array
For grander banquet in One Great Hall
“A neat metaphysical conclusion”
Or one piece of flying crockery
One falling picture

30 November 2004


By what right say you are a man?
By whose name do you lay claim
To name yourself?
Whence your authority to hold identity?

I know a man who knew himself
With such clear knowing that we could not speak
Such certainty – Opaque to human eye
Such confidence – His soul I could not reach
When my own self quivers tense, alert
Taut and tensing search and questing
seeking only to know, to find By Whom?

To be a man
To be in Being’s chain
At last, knowing by being known

29 November 2004

Thanksgiving 2004

Talk went as talk does
“God bless America, Land that I love”
“Nkosi, sikelel’ iAfrika”
“Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to himself has said, ‘This is my own, my …’”
What citizen are you?
By what right do you hold this passport?
Do you really? Are you – I don’t know
Card, home, rights, responsibilities
Kit, Mr Fix-It, do it yourself
Who are you? Really – Who am I?

Talk went on, around the swirling mists of
Mashed potatoes and Turkey
A stew of memories
“King of the wild Frontier”
“Have Gun, Will Travel” to rocks bold and old
Climbing, playing, teaching, singing
Mixed together – season with talk and Canada
“This is my home and native …”?

Or something else that all the rocks and grass
All the sea and mountains and people
Can only hint at?

28 November 2004

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Ball

A ball lies in front of me
Coverless, no history that I know
Hockey, cricket? Some game long past
it may have known. Or not
No history that I know
Perhaps a strong arm blessed it with great force
Or bat became intimate with guided strength
Or stick cuddled it swiftly end to end
No history that I know

A story somewhere, lost with its owner
Now a ball lies in front of me

21 November 2004

No story, no cover, a life on my desk
Links me to the past
It has no story that I know
Yet binds me to my own story
Ball bouncing between outspread bipeds
Young lads in a circle starting a game
Stinger – ball thrown, ball dodged
Bowler to batsman – Howzat!?
A cry I never made, though wanted to
Ball struck left to right
Glancing off defender’s back – into goal
Stories of games from nine to sometime
Lodged in a ball: no cover, no story that I know
Just a life on my desk

22 November 2004

Stages 3

They call me Professor, a strange name
The face in the mirror is the same
But the name, so formal, so filled with distance
Covers the intimate joy of play, joy intense
On field, over board, lost at sea in a game
of life and chance. Professor

One seeks connection
In communion with God
community with God’s people
One seeks meaning
In conversation and silence divine and human and animal
One seeks to be – known and knower
With rank uncovered before our Judge and Lover
More than a rank or title
More than a name or quirk
To be God’s person, named and titled by God

Our forms of address: formal, informal
Do we see with the address beneath the form
To the person meaning, meant to be?
Do I? With my words and deeds
See people with themselves
Ranked and equal, all together
To know by being known

9 December 2004

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Stages 2

A young man I was once
In many places, many ways I -- young
French class, I saw her next to me
That came to nothing
For many years it all went somewhere
And nowhere

A youth in school, on to college
The game more important than
other valuables
Chess and football, Tartuffe stands in the background
identity forming quietly, on the gym floor
over the water cooler, walking with friends

Beneath all else I was and am a child
God's child, child of the church
my God, my church -- known together
Though one so ultimate and the other so dependent
Always together
The church, or God in Christ, carried me
Safe in canoe or woods
Secure in tenement house or apartment
Protected from myself as my own self formed

Young I was once, a young man still
buried in an older body

4 December 2004

Stages 1

All the world’s a stage
And we – you and I my friend
We pass through stages
Acts, scenes, lines
Youth – Family – Job – Security – Retired
Five stages (like good Hindus)?
Seven ages for the human creature?

We stage our set, bit-players rattling and rolling
Rock-climbing: there was a rattle to rock
Lizards and kittens, sinkholes and bells
A fine play worth more than a scene
The curtain call lives in my memory, except
When did the curtain fall?
On board ship, making Neptune’s acquaintance?
On Sadie Hawkins’ Day, afraid of the dance?
Asleep in the woods, car horns blowing?
I know it fell – I remember it well –
But when?

A stage, a scene, a play to recall
Somewhere as a later scene plays on

1 December 2004

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

More on School Spirit/Patriotism

Penn State may be a rousing example of school spirit, especially when you go to a football game. The University of Kentucky at a basketball game would give similar experiences. I have played some of the Penn State fight songs for friends and colleagues here in Manitoba. One of them heard words something like: "We pledge our love and loyalty to thee, alma mater". He said, "Could you imagine Canadian students singing that? They would say, 'I'm here for an education, what are you talking about?'"

He's right. We don't do such school spirit north of the border, just as we don't do patriotism. I wonder how unique we Canadians are in this respect. The English understand the concept of school spirit well enough, or they used to. "The old school tie" (I would wear them from Hillside Junior and Hamilton High School in old Rhodesia) meant something in England of old, and in the colonies. As for patriotism: listen to the people singing along at the last night of the proms! "Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves! And Britons never never never shall be slaves!"

I'm American and Canadian, with roots in Zimbabwe under English colonial rule. My spirit answers the enthusiasm of the prommers when they sing Blake's Jerusalem: "And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon England's mountains green? And was the holy Lamb of God On England's pleasant pastures seen?" "Land of Hope and Glory" has a similar effect.

Canadians? I really can't imagine Canadians cheering in response to a chorus of "Rule Canada, Canada rules the snow, and Canadians never never shall lose hockey!" Hockey: there's the one thing that does get Canadian blood stirring. Along with curling. And beating the USA in anything.

So there's another question for me: not just the question of why I respond to fight songs and patriotic fervour, but the further question of why Canadians in general don't. I'll try to pick that up in the next post. If I don't forget, and if the Jets don't suddenly turn up in Winnipeg. (Could Penguins acquire jet boosters and fly north?)

I think I'll let my American side (with British roots) flow out some more. "We are .... Penn State!" (We are .... Canadian eh?)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Penn State, Fight On!

Okay, I don't know that "Penn State, Fight On!" is the line or title of any of the Penn State fight songs, but it sure could be. Our son (a grad student at Penn State) gave Lois and me two CDs from the Penn State Glee Club, a men's glee club in which he sings.

Now Vaughn has written in his own blog about the experience of teaching first year students the fight songs: an odd experience for a Canadian from the University of Waterloo. I asked a friend here in Manitoba if he knows any Canadian university that has the kind of school spirit seen at Penn State (which is common among American universities). He said that such enthusiasm seems to be an American phenomenon.

So we listened to the CDs, and enjoyed the enthusiastic singing of a men's choir: "Fight on, Penn State!" In fact, I have now listened to these songs a number of times and find them profoundly moving. This response seems odd enough to be almost maudlin, so that I wonder what's going on internally.

I suppose I could be remembering my own past as an American, missing the high that comes from expressing love and loyalty (even for one's school). Canada revels in being more low key. Canadians insist that they are less patriotic than Americans (but see what happens if you mistakenly call a Canadian an American). Similarly, Canadian universities don't chant, "We are BC!" (At least, I don't think they do.) So maybe my delight in Penn State's songs is simply nostalgia for my own school days at Messiah College.

That's part of the trouble: I never went to Penn State. I am a graduate of Annville-Cleona High School, Messiah College, AMBS, and Asbury's School of World Mission. I suppose I should look for their fight songs, and wallow in the nostalgia of my own past. Instead, I turn up the volume in the car stereo as loud as I can and listen to the glee club and the loud applause from the audience.

Somehow, I don't think that nostalgia is the whole story. It's part of the story; but I think the real reason for the sense of delight and connection I feel when the male voices sing out lies beneath a description of musical forms that draw out an emotional response, or a conversation about the a cultural affinity for patriotic fervour (country or school), or other descriptions of the surface of the phenomenon.

Although I doubt that I can penetrate the surface of my own response and see clearly into what lies deeper, I have a hunch. There is something sacred about community. Christians (and adherents of other world faiths) embody the sacredness of community. School ties may be one of the lesser examples of human community. I'm not sure: it may be one of the greater; but in any case it is one of the more vital forms of human community that survives in contemporary USA. Even though "Fight on State!" refers to a school not my own, I revel in the connection between people that energizes the singing.

Perhaps the next generation will not know these songs anymore. Perhaps 20 years from now the glee club will not sing of Nittany Mountain. If so, we will all have lost something, which we will need to re-create in some other form. We don't need to score a touchdown or hold the line against a Michigan rushing back, but we need each other anyway. When it comes to school spirit, my American side listens to my Canadian side's cynical putdown, then joins the song, "Fight On, Penn State!"

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Sorting Out My Thoughts

Later this month I would like to take the students from a class I teach (Critique of Secular Culture) to McNally Robinson, a local bookseller, where the University of Manitoba' Humanities' Department leads a monthly discussion of ideas. According to the flier sent out by the bookseller, the January discussion is on Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion. (A check on the web is discouraging, giving the topic of "Food": interesting, but not as good for class discussion.)

So I do need to read the book, and I need to take such critics seriously. Before doing so (I can't get to the library before Monday), I've been re-sorting through my own thoughts on the idea that God does, or does not, exist. At one level the question is an impertinence, given my own beliefs. For me to put God in the dock (to use a title from C.S. Lewis' essays) is like the character in a book trying to investigate and judge his author, or like the figure in a painting setting herself up as critic of the artist's work: we simply are not qualified for the task.

But recognizing the hubris inherent in the task, I offer a starting thought: We are all creatures of faith. The human condition is such that the effort to learn, to know anything, requires that we assume something else. We are finite creatures probing an infinite universe (so far as our minds can visualize it). How could we possibly learn anything if we did not stand on some ground to assert it, test it, and learn it?

This idea is a commonplace: think of Kuhn's paradigms. I am following Lesslie Newbigin's observation when I say that every one who makes an assertion assumes some prior framework (or paradigm, or ground), but this is elementary stuff.

Now the point this suggests to me is this: Every one assumes some framework of ideas within which they observe Reality. (I follow Charles Kraft in capitalizing Reality when I mean that which exists in and of itself beyond any one person's perception. To refer to our perception of reality, the realities that we all have inside our head, I use the lower case r: reality.) This framework, or paradigm, is what I mean by the term "religion". In this sense the supernatural religions of the world (especially Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and some forms of Hinduism) provide a framework within which their adherents make sense of Reality. In this sense Buddhism and other forms of Hinduism, essentially philosophical and non-supernaturalistic, also provide their adherents with the means to understand reality. And in this sense Secularism, and some forms of Science, function as a religion, providing their adherents with a way to make sense of experience.

Another way of referring to the idea of paradigm is to refer to a story which we use to organize Reality. Christians tell a story of the way the world came to be, and of how we are to understand the world in which we live. Science, seen as a religion, tells its own story, excluding God a priori. What we have to do then, is compare stories (or paradigms) and see which we find most satisfactory. The canons for such comparison are ill-defined; but we serve no one well if we call thoe with whom we disagree idiots for disagreeing with us. Even the Taleban had cogent reasons for their own worldview. I believe that they are wrong in their paradigm, but I do not believe that they are simply silly.

What I want as a starting point, then, is a setting in which we can exchange and critique stories. We need neither seek to convert, nor seek to stifle, but express our own deepest understanding of Reality and search together for something better than the sword that so quickly cuts off another's expression of his/her search.

A last thought: in a comment to my last post Donna referred to the litany of wars fought on religious grounds. One can quickly compile a counter-list of wars fought on economic grounds, or for national pride, or for ethnic survival, or against those who believe in God. The list itself proves nothing. But it does help show why many people have turned against religion (even though they may act with the same violence they claim to find so horrifying). And it does rebuke adherents of different religions for their own faithlessness.

As a Christian, aware of the teachings of Jesus to love and seek peace and of the example of Jesus accepting death rather than leading a revolt against Roman power, I feel betrayed by those who go to war in the name of God. But of course I am tied to the structures within which war and violence is perpetrated. This drives me not to atheism, but to repentance and action, seeking peace in the cannon's mouth.

Jesus said that love and unity among Christians is the best evidence for God's existence and for the truth that Jesus and the Father are One. We have argued the case better than we have lived it. We can rebut the arguments of our detractors, but that counts for little if we do not also create a new litany of peace and love with our own lives.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Future of a Delusion?

In several different settings recently Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, has come into the conversation. I haven't read it, and don't know if I will. Based on descriptions of his work, I do wonder 1) why he attacks faith in God with such ferocity (pugnacity was the word used in one response), and 2) why he and others commenting on his work resent the suggestion that rejecting God also requires faith. Dawkins' faith appears to be in science. If he thought that artists or poets or other non-scientists were making truth-claims about ultimate reality, he might attack them too. I don't know of course: maybe I do have to read one of his books!

For some time now I have been profoundly convinced that all human statements about the way the world is, are really faith statements. I think that Christian faith is eminently rational; but I don't see why anyone would claim that reason forces anyone to see that God is there. I have a good friend who is a non-theist ("living with the hypothesis that there is no God"), and he is clearly as rational as I. We have made different faith choices: competing, complementary, and different.

Why should I suggest that his faith in the non-existence of God makes him a fool? Why should he suggest that my faith in the active presence of God makes me a fool? Why should either of us suggest that tolerance requires us to pretend that we don't believe, or that we act on the basis of our belief?

One blog (from The Guardian in the UK) has a Muslim responding to Dawkins. Reader after reader (I assume mostly from England) excoriated the blogger as a fool. The accepted religion of the West is modernism, seen in its empiricist/scientific form. (Christian Smith has an interesting study titled Moral Believing Animals, which tells the stories that people use to shape their lives: the modern Enlightenment story is clearly at work in the posts I read on this blog.)

I propose that fundamentalism (whether atheist or supernaturalist) is the enemy of human knowing, and that we will remain trapped in our delusions, as Freud, from whom the title of the post is almost borrowed, was trapped in his. Courtesy and courage, to speak and to hear, holds more hope than narrow fundamentalism of any kind.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Driving back and forth to Minnesota takes me across the US-Canadian border on a regular basis. There is a rhythm to such crossings: one rhythm on the Peace Bridge when we fly to Toronto and drive south to Harrisburg; another rhythm on route 59 headed south or north.

Usually the American border guard asks: "Where do you live? Where are you going? Purpose? Citizenship?" Occasionally (as last week), one asks: "Where were you born?" I was born in Zambia, which leads to further questions. The primary concern is always to make sure that someone entering the United States is legitimate.

Driving home I pull up to the Canadian border. The difference between border crossings is striking. My American passport takes me south; my Canadian passport takes me north. But the Canadian guard is normally a Customs Officer, who asks only about purchases. "Where do you live? Where have you been? What did you buy?" If the concern going south is security, the concern going north is finance.

Of course, in both directions the guards have a pretty good idea of what is happening by looking at my licence plate, entering the licence number (perhaps this is done more at the American than the Canadian border), and knowing who crosses here. I know a number of the guards by now; and they know me and many other people.

They know that my Manitoba licence means that I'm coming home (or visiting, as the case may be). But I notice that the American guard always swipes my passport through some sort of electronic screening device, and the Canadian guard may or may not look at my passport (which is sitting plain sight beside me). If the guard doesn't know me, he's more likely to ask to see my identification; often as not he knows me, and may ask a question about Providence to show that he understands exactly where I fit.

I don't know what the experience feels like to people who carry passports from other countries, in Europe or Asia or Africa, when they come to the US or Canada. But for me, it's usually a brief stop and some conversation with people I've gotten to know. I don't envy them their job: there are enough people who try to exploit the good relationship between Canada and the US, and cross under false pretences. But the bigger difference is that the border marks a real boundary between two countries. Northern Minnesota and southern Manitoba are so close, and we share a great deal; but we are really different.

Some day I'll think more about the differences.