Recently my dear friend and I had the chance to go down to Montana for a girl’s weekend and shopping trip. The scary stern faces of the border guards (and scary stories -like the time my daughter and her friend were surrounded by men with automatic weapons pointed at them because a scant amount of radiation from a bone scan her friend had earlier that week tripped some sort of alarm) make us aware that we are in a foreign country. Since the border with the US is the only border Canadians regularly cross by land it’s an adventure. Our kids, and now our grandchildren are fascinated by the “foreign travel” aspect. But the truth is we have to look for differences. They’re not obvious.
Our language is the same, and our cultures are pretty similar. We understand the movie and celebrity references. We even get most of the political references. The kids always notice the flags everywhere and I also notice the alcohol for sale in the grocery stores and at the first gas station we stop at -oh, and also the low price of gasoline compared to ours. That’s why we always try to arrive with a mostly empty tank. There are a couple of shops whose cash registers seize up when introduced to my Canadian debit card, but most have no trouble. The money is all the same colour so it’s harder to tell at a glance how much is left in the wallet after we hit Costco, where chicken and cheese are cheaper, but produce costs more.
The American side of the border crossing seems to have been deforested around Eureka. Somebody told us this was for security. I don’t know. Looks kind of bare to me. There are philosophical differences between the two countries that aren’t obvious at first, but I will probably never get used to seeing people with holsters and handguns. I thought they were part of a cowboy costume theme week or something. No, ordinary people really do carry guns when they are not hunting moose. This seems very strange to us, and a bit scary considering we are the foreigners all that security is meant to protect them from. I really don’t get it, but it seems to be very important to them, so OK. Just keep it in the holster.
So my friend and I picked up a few groceries to take to our lovely rental condo.
“You can sure tell you are in a foreign country,” she said as she put some things in the fridge. “Look at this butter. Now I know what the American recipes mean when they call for a stick of butter.” The butter was divided and packaged into rectangular shapes inside yet another package. I laughed at her (Lovingly. She is the dearest person.) because this is how hard we have to look to see our differences sometimes. Our butter comes in 454 gm. blocks -usually. 454 gm. -not 500 gm. which is an even number, because 454 gm. is a pound, but we like to think we’ve gone metric.
I was thinking later, as I drove through de-forested Eureka, how easy it is to look for our differences, our “distinctives.” It’s a defensive thing, really, to look for things we do better. Part of our Canadian identity is that we are not Americans (although our country takes up the majority of the land mass on this continent called America.) My ancestors were United Empire Loyalists -heroes in one country, traitors in the other, and there have been a lot of anti-American words spoken since then. I wondered (and this might seem a strange question to Americans, but try reversing the scenario) what do people in the States do better than we do? What can we learn from them? I immediately thought of the servers in restaurants who were all friendly and helpful. I was pleasantly surprised by the helpfulness of store clerks -especially by the fact that you could actually find some. They do service better than we do. There were more products on the shelves and more menus in cafes that accommodated my food sensitivities. There were greeting cards and plaques with Christian themes in regular stores. As I began to see more I began to bless them for their differences -and realized we really do have a lot more in common than we have “distinctives.”
There is a turning point in the story told in While He Lay Dying, when two brothers who were so very aware of their distinctives were in the same room. One was comatose and dying. The other wanted desperately to reconcile their relationship. A pastor in the room asked him, “Can you bless your brother for all the ways he is different?” He did so, and not only did he experience deep healing himself, but something in the atmosphere changed. All of a sudden people who were praying in their homes started texting in saying they felt the Lord was bringing their attention to Psalm 139 -“How blessed it is when brothers dwell in unity…” Right after that people were woken in the night with the sense that they could not pray for this man’s survival until they had reconciled with someone. People from different churches showed up and reconciled in the hallways before they joined in prayer.
We were watching the beginning of a miracle, and it began when one man blessed another for his differences.
Unity is not uniformity, nor compromise of essentials. It is more than tolerating cultural and style differences; it is honouring them. When we in Christendom can stop defending our possession of our piece of the puzzle long enough to bless other denominations and their expression of love for Jesus Christ, we can not only learn from each other, we can start the reconciliation process that will re-unite this fractured, divided church. Step one in healing and restoration: come together and bless each other for our differences.
And I think dividing butter into 1/2 cup “sticks” is a great idea.