The highlight of the Super Bowl for me was Coca-Cola’s "America is Beautiful" commercial. The images of the American landscape are amazing and the song was beautiful. At first I was a bit confused by the different languages singing "America the Beautiful" (I’m slow…), but I caught on about halfway through. When the commercial ended, I looked over at my wife and said, “Wow. That was beautiful … Not worth four million dollars, but that was good.”
For the moment, let’s deal with any cynicism that the Coca-Cola Company is simply trying to sell us their product. Of course they’re trying to sell us their product; that’s why they spent millions on their ad, but along the way, Coke pointed to the reason that I love the United States. I love my country because it is a nation that welcomes the “Other.” Indeed, we haven’t always been good at this, and we still struggle with it, but the United States is a nation of immigrants. Even Native Americans, who have tragically been excluded from the land they’ve lived on for thousands of years, were originally immigrants who were welcomed by this land. This land has a long history of welcoming people into it, and so any act of excluding immigrants goes against its ideal of welcoming the “Other.”
Maybe the best example of this welcoming spirit is the great icon of the United States, the Statue of Liberty. On the base of Lady Liberty there is a plaque that is very much in line with Coke’s inclusive commercial. It says to all the nations of the world:
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
That’s America the beautiful. That’s the America that includes everyone. And that’s the America Coca-Cola is pointing us toward.
Please notice what Lady Liberty does not say. She does not say, “But before you give me your tired, your poor, your masses, your homeless, your wretched refuse, they must first speak English. They must first have something to offer us. And above all, they must be willing lose their identity and become just like us.”
No. Lady Liberty reveals America at our best. We’re at our best when we accept and welcome people just as they are.
If the United States can claim to have Judeo-Christian roots and to be a Godly nation, it is because of this spirit that welcomes the “Other” just as they are. Leviticus 19:34 states, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” First, notice that the aliens were still aliens. They were to be accepted just as they were, as aliens. Second, the people of Israel had previously been aliens in Egypt and were treated as less than human, as worthless and shameful, and their only job was to do the dirty work that nobody else wanted to do. God says that if you want to be a Godly nation, you can’t treat your fellow human beings that way. Rather, you must welcome them, and you must love them as you love yourself.
Then there’s the prophet Isaiah’s vision of God throwing a party and inviting everyone to it. Unfortunately, there was no Coke in Isaiah’s vision, but there was plenty of wine:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on his mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth. (Isaiah 25:6-8)
Notice that God invites everyone to the party just as they are. God wipes away the tears on all our faces, tears that come from acts of excluding one another from being welcomed into loving relationships. The nations come, the shroud of evil and hostility that separates “us” from “them” is destroyed, and the nations join God’s party.
Like Isaiah, Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a party. In Luke 14, Jesus told a parable of a dinner party where some people refused to come, but Jesus made sure that that those who are often labeled as the “Other,” in his words, the “poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” had a special place at his party. But there was still room, so the man throwing the party said to his servants, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.” God wants God’s house party to be full of all kinds of people, but especially those who get labeled as “Other.”
Of course, some people didn’t like Coke’s commercial, some people don’t want to love the alien as they love themselves, and some people don’t want to attend God’s party where everyone is invited. It’s unfortunate, but understandable. We humans like to hold onto our hostilities; it gives our group a sense of unity to be against another group and so the way we tend to define ours group as good is by defining the other group as bad and dangerous to our way of life.
The vision of America that welcomes people just as they are is like the prophetic visions of Leviticus, Isaiah, and Jesus that claims God welcomes people into God’s realm just as they are. Some people aren’t going to like that message. And, frankly, that’s okay. We don’t have to mirror them by making them into an “Other” that we think will destroy our way of life. Rather, God, the Statue of Liberty, and Coke’s America invite us to love them, too, just as they are. Indeed, the fight for justice and inclusion must go on, but Christians should only wage that battle by welcoming and loving the “Other,” just as they are.
That’s America, a Godly nation. That’s America the beautiful.
Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.