Saturday, December 11, 2004

new citizens

Today I experienced the honor of witnessing the swearing in of naturalized citizens at the U.S. Courthouse downtown. Some friends from Bosnia stood with 48 others to pledge allegiance and swear to an oath to become U.S. citizens. To my surprise, it was a moving event. People from Vietnam, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Venezuela, Lebanon, and more likely places such as China and Mexico were present. I was impressed by the remarkable diversity gathered in a small city like Lexington.
(There's More)

Addressing the group of citizens-to-be were a group of women from several Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) chapters, and all but one must have been over the age of 75. I listened closely to what they said because one, I thought it odd to have this particular group present in a court room setting, and two, I could qualify by my own family lineage to belong to such an organization. They greeted the newcomers kindly. From them I heard phrases such as - “the greatest nation in the world,” “prosperity and the pursuit of happiness,” “bright future,” “the promise of your children as American citizens,” and “honor and privilege.” One woman even invited them to participate in the Christmas season and she finished with “God bless you and God bless America” (which unfortunately lacked religious sensibility - at least a quarter of them were Muslim, including my friends). The residing judge went on to present a brief speech that focused on “evildoers” and the United States’ commitment to national security. The language was full of national pride and a certain brand of morality that reflected a fixed black and white worldview.

I felt proud to be a part of a country that opens its doors and receives people from all over the world. In part, I was hopeful for the opportunities and possibilities I trust they will have as American citizens. But more importantly, I thought about being a Christian and the chance to welcome people from across the globe. I thought about the difference between the power and vision of people belonging to a civilization of such strength and wealth and that of the kingdom of God. Then I was reminded of these words of Jean Vanier from his book, “Becoming Human” –

“Civilization is, at least in part, about pretending that things are better than they are. We all want to be in a happy place, where everyone is nice and good and can fend for themselves. We shun our weaknesses and the weaknesses of others. We refuse to listen to the cry of the needy. How easy it is to fall into the illusion of a beautiful world when we have lost trust in our capacity to make of our broken world a place that can become more beautiful.”
As I was recognizing my nationality (good or bad) and all that this nation has to offer, I sensed more deeply the call of hope and the whisper of faith in another vision. As a citizen of the kingdom of God sitting in that courtroom, I encountered a gentle reminder from the Spirit of God’s upside down economy and redemptive work of wholeness – shalom – which brings together broken and fragmented parts and makes something new. And this new reality of grace coming in our midst outstrips any potential of a new nationality or any prospect of “making it” socially or economically. Simply and unexpectedly, I left with a much-needed, regenerated passion for mission and a reminder of the power of God’s kingdom above all things.

1 comment:

geoff said...

waiting for citizenship is at least a 6-year process. i guess people who arrive at this ceremony know what it means to wait...to hope in an advent kind of way. i know the process to be a US citizen is marked with many a ritual process - forms, finger prints, pre-dawn journeys to the immmigration office, waiting in line, calling the 1-800 number for ambiguous advice, etc. but what are the rituals for kingdom-citizenship? baptism, conversion, conversion (again, again, again), prayer, acceptance in a community of faith, receiving grace, liturgy (in the works -of-the-people way). more? less?