Review: What We Owe Each Other by Minouche Shafik
Nobody has ever actually seen “the social contract” let alone signed it, which probably explains why there is so much disagreement about what is actually in it. In her new…
Without it, aches can be even harder to bear.
Years before I met my wife, Diane, in 1990, she sang with her friend John in a contemporary Christian musical group at the church they attended. When Diane and I became engaged, a husband and wife from church hosted a dinner at which they and other parishioners, including John and his wife, had a chance to congratulate the two of us and, not incidentally, check me out. I evidently didn’t do anything too terrible or embarrassing that evening and we all became good friends.
Not long after, John, who is an excellent financial advisor, became ours, not that we had many dollars about which to advise. He has continued in the dual role of friend and financial advisor, and when, a couple of years ago, we needed a lawyer, John recommended someone he knew from his energetic faith life. Unsurprisingly, this new person did great work at a reasonable price.
More recently, we needed a real estate agent and once again John recommended a friend with whom he had faith-related ties.
And once again, his recommendation was terrific. And the point I seek to make with all this religiously-flavored personal stuff is, what?
Of course, I could have found a first-rate financial advisor, a first-rate lawyer, and a first-rate real estate agent via other routes, having nothing whatsoever to do with my getting married, or with anyone’s religious life. But the connections Diane and I have made thanks to both marriage and faith—the networking we’ve taken advantage of—sure has helped.
For a blend of practical and loftier reasons, being part of a community can be enormously beneficial. Moreover, by being married to clergy—Diane was ordained in the Episcopal Church fifteen years ago—I’m naturally inclined to think quickly of religious communities when pondering the virtues of community more generally. And especially because I’m a religious minority, I hold all this to be true regardless of whether a house of worship is called a church, synagogue, temple, mosque, meeting house or something else.
Having spent a lot of time over the decades thinking and writing about the deep sadness and huge costs of the high rates of non-marital births and divorce, I also unsurprisingly think about the lack of marriage as constituting large, sometimes mountainous obstacles to community. This is the case, for no other reason, when single parents often don’t have much free time to devote regular Sabbath mornings or evenings to prayer and, especially in regard to the subject at hand, fellowship.
I’m thinking, for example, of two essential books about impoverished, single-parent families, the lead writer of each being Kathryn Edin, a superb sociologist as well as graduate of Staples High School: Promises I Can Keep and Doing the Best I Can. The former study focuses on single mothers and the latter on nonresident fathers.
The adjective “essential” above fits, though both books suffer from paying barely any attention to the role religion plays, or more precisely, the role it doesn’t play, in the lives of the women and men studied intimately for several years, mostly in poor neighborhoods in Philadelphia. I assume the omissions are simply the product of the non-involvement on the part of Edin’s subjects in any organized religious activities. Edin, being the distinguished sociologist she is (possible unfair jab to follow), may just not be as alert to religious matters as, say, a deacon’s husband. If the first explanation is, in fact, most accurate, the low-income women and men she writes about respectfully, even lovingly, likely could have benefited, one way or another, by participating in a religiously animated community, as their circle of friends and others who might help them would have expanded sizably.
I’m thinking here of my own life and that of my wife, the Reverend McGowan.
As I am writing this, she is co-leading a discussion at her church, St. George’s Episcopal in St. Louis Park, for parishioners grieving the loss of loved ones. Much more mundanely, any number of (mostly women) members have been helping us move from our city house in Minneapolis, where we have lived for 25 years, to our new country house in Eden Prairie. It’s one thing when you’re 22 to round up some pals to move your relatively limited possessions from one tiny place to another. It’s an entirely different deal when you’re on the cusp of 70, your stuff has multiplied by thousands, and just about everyone you know can spell Celebrex backwards in their sleep.
It may sound rude to cite healing from profound grief and healing from lugging boxes of books in the same paragraph. But without a community, each ache can be even harder to bear.