One of my favorite TV shows is Corner Gas, that much-loved Canadian sitcom that entertained us for six seasons with the ordinary, yet hilarious, lives of the people of Dog River, Saskatchewan.
No matter how many times I watch the episodes (I’ve lost count now), I’m still thrilled by the show’s witty dialogue, tumultuous situations, and quirky characters.
There’s something heartwarming about Corner Gas, like returning to your parents after years away and finding your old room just as you left it.
Perhaps because theology is my stock in trade, I am always looking for a spiritual source for my joy and satisfaction in the details of earthly life. My enjoyment in Corner Gas is no different.
What is it about the lives of these normal people in a small town in Saskatchewan that I find so beautiful? What makes this banality so wonderful?
A bit of dialogue from the show’s first season offers some insight. In the introductory scene, one of the main characters, Wanda Dollard, sits at the counter of the gas station where she works. Because it’s a small town in the middle of nowhere, she doesn’t have much to do, so she reads, not a magazine, but a textbook.
A customer enters and the following dialog occurs:
Client: “What is quantum physics?”
Wanda: “Yeah, I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that light can be a particle and a wave. I was going to study it in college, but then I got interested in biochemistry. And then, on a whim, I opted for linguistics, with a minor in comparative religion.
Customer: “Wow, how did you end up in a place like this?”
Wanda Dollard: “The last girl quit. Can you believe it?”
While some of the humor in this exchange is lost without the nuance that good actors can provide, the inner irony of the joke is evident in the writing.
Of all the career heights Wanda could reach, the job she most wants to do is to be a rather dull, dingy gas station attendant in a town of a hundred people in the middle of the prairies.
Dog River is a place where nothing happens. It’s boring and dull. No one in the outside world knows or cares so much. It’s not the center of anything.
And yet, for all that, the people of Dog River don’t just live there, they wouldn’t live anywhere else.
What makes the show truly funny with repeat viewings is in the characters’ irrepressible belief that this tiny town with nothing really is the best of all possible worlds – not because it’s so big per se, but because that’s where they really belong.
Someone once said that the human need to belong is greater than the need to be loved. It is a bold assertion, but one which is confirmed in observation.
Consider how many abused and beaten spouses endure their marriage simply because they cannot imagine belonging anywhere else.
Consider how many young people join gangs or popular groups, not because they are treated well, but because they feel at home in these groups.
In fact, the need to belong is ultimately spiritual in nature.
Our inner drive to find our own versions of Dog River – places, relationships, communities where we can find complete and unconditional acceptance and peace – stems from a deeper desire to find the true home of our hearts in God himself.
As Saint Augustine said in his Confessions: “Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.
When this desire for our home in God is not satisfied, we seek all kinds of substitutes. We can endure violence and gravitate towards dangerous cults and sects. We can find solace in virtual pseudo-communities like Facebook.
Or we can strive through social and political action to realize the Dog River ideal of belonging to our own communities. But unless we find the true source of our desire to be at home in our creator, our basic loneliness and restlessness will continue to drive and consume us.
The Christian gospel offers us the way back to true belonging. More than just dying for us, Jesus died with us, that is, in solidarity with our experience, so that we can be restored to where we truly belong – in the presence of God, his kingdom is within us (Luke 17:21).
So the gospel challenges us to give up our relentless search for belonging in the many substitutes that cannot and do not satisfy and to realize that in Jesus Christ God loves us, accepts us, embraces us without Reserve. We are home, once and for all.
Our task – the task for the rest of our life – is to accept the fact and live accordingly.
The V. Rev. Richard René is the priest in charge of St. Nicholas Orthodox Mission (orthodoxkamloops.ca), an English-speaking Eastern Orthodox church for the community of Kamloops. KTW welcomes submissions on its Faith page. Columns should be between 600 and 800 words and can be emailed to [email protected]