Barack, welcome to Canada.


Watch Obama’s Speech to Parliament

Since returning to my homeland four years ago, I have struggled to feel Canadian. Living away for 15 years left me uncertain about what Canada was all about. I returned with eyes opened to the tragedies as well as the glories of Canada’s history. It was hard even to sing the national anthem: ‘O Canada, our home and native land…’

‘Ours’ is a stolen land. Today, we have two-thirds world conditions in some of OUR indigenous communities, who don’t even have clean, running drinking water in a nation that controls a fifth of the world’s fresh water. (Even though only half of that is usable and renewable.)

Canada is a far-from-perfect country. Our pluralism is unevenly experienced and applied. We can be insular and cynical about the world. Our colonial history is one of exploitation, injustice, and genocide.

We fight about whether the national anthem should apply to women as well as men. We are big on the ‘rah rah rah!’ of ‘isn’t it great to be Canadian?!’, and I struggle with that. A lot.

However, I have had to reassess my national identity in light of last week’s Brexit vote. So much of what I chose to identify with in taking on British nationality, and European identity, disappeared overnight and I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. Feeling newly ambivalent towards my British passport, I traveled to the US clutching my Canadian one, and wondering about it all.

Amongst North Americans, Canadians at my conference flocked together like bird of a feather (snowbirds don’t only go south in the winter). We were from very different backgrounds but something about the way we see the world drew us together. It’s an openness, a curiosity, a welcome.

It was summed up the day before yesterday as President Obama addressed the Houses of Parliament in Ottawa. The introduction was cringe-worthy, the speech full of the usual political rhetoric and platitudes. But what struck me beyond the rapturous appreciation for him as a person and a leader was the way that Canadians can just make people feel at home. Inviting him to speak, Prime Minister Trudeau offered, ‘Barack, welcome to Canada.’ No ‘Mr. President’ here. But a warm welcome, to someone who feels, and was welcomed, like an old friend. (And yes, most Canadians profoundly wish he had four more years.)

I hope we learned the Canadian welcome from our first nations people. I pray we will learn what it means to repent of an abused welcome. And my healthy cynicism can return on Monday. But today, on this Canada Day, I am especially and newly grateful, to be part of a country that is willing to err on the side of openness and inclusion, than of xenophobia and cynicism. May God keep our land glorious and free. In this age of fear and exclusion, He is the only one who can.



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