Like many people who live in this country, I sometimes struggle to see the things that make America a great nation. It isn’t the land of my childhood, where we all had hope and faith in the United States, even when we had a president who refused to acknowledge that a disease of epidemic proportions — AIDS — was killing entire generations of American men. Even during those times that (I’ve been told!) were dark, America was a country that had the world’s backing, a power that came to the aid of its sister nations in need.
I don’t need to say that times have changed, and like many of my countrymen, I often feel that the United States has lost its way, at home and in the world.
At the same time, I can not overlook the fact that, even when we have the worst reputation around the globe, thousands of people still seek our shores, for this truly is a land of opportunity. Working in downtown Washington, D.C., I interact with people from around the planet on a daily basis: the Korean family who runs the deli next to my office, the Central American immigrant who has actually made a small fortune by operating a burrito stand on the corner and co-workers and friends who hail from Africa and Asia.
I see people from vastly different backgrounds interacting on a daily basis as if they were family, and I have to say it warms my heart.
While our planet may be so incredibly vast, the world is, in reality, very very small.
Last week, I visited a bookstore in a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. For those who don’t know, the Eastern Shore of Maryland is an area that is decidedly rural in nature. I don’t mean that as a knock, especially since I grew up in rural South Carolina.
As I entered the bookstore, I went immediately to the religion section, expecting to see a number of shelves filled with books representing a range of spiritual thought. Instead, I found a couple hundred books about Christianity (what was I expecting, really? This was, after all, Queenstown, Maryland, population 617). Books about the Holy Mother, the power of (Christian) prayer, and even a couple on the Pope (a..k.a. the Holy Father).
But there on the end, behind a children’s book of Bible stories, was a rather serious looking tome, A New Religious America: How A “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation.
In it, I learned that Los Angeles, the second-largest city in these United States, has more varieties of Buddhists than any other place on Earth. I learned that there are more Muslims in this nation that Episcopalians, Jews or Presbyterians. And, I discovered, even the smallest towns in America are learning first-hand about Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians and followers of just about every other faith on the globe.
It’s funny that, in a sleepy little town on the Eastern Shore, I would find myself remembering one of the things that make me most proud to say I’m an American. For all of our problems — and we’ve got plenty — the most diverse lot of people I could ever imagine have made their homes here and have brought with them thousands of years of spiritual traditions.
This is the great melting pot, and I am proud to stand next to these wonderful people from every corner of the planet to say that this is our home.
Thanks, people. I love you all.