Friday, March 17, 2017

"I hereby declare, on oath..."

It was a very long time ago, and no one now living was even a gleam in our forefathers' eyes. But some of my ancestors were on that boatload of people -- immigrants, refugees, sturdy dreamers -- who sailed on the Mayflower.

With all the talk about new people coming to America these days, I can't help but consider my family as immigrants. I'm sorry that my people maybe didn't treat their American hosts very well. That's hard to swallow. I'm grateful that we were able to stay, despite all that.

This week at work (yes, as part of my job!) I was privileged to attend a Naturalization Oath Ceremony. There were a couple of short welcoming speeches. There were 19 people from eight different homelands -- Bahrain, China, India, Korea, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, and Tanzania -- who stood to take the Oath of Citizenship. They pledged to renounce all prior national allegiances, and to take up arms or do whatever was legally required of them to defend their new country. I cried a little. When they sat down again, they were citizens of the United States of America. We joined another immigrant in singing our national anthem. I couldn't help but cry. One of the new citizens led us all in the Pledge of Allegiance. I cried some more. The ceremony was totally official and, for me, completely emotional. (I did not shed any tears during the cheesy inspirational videos. I will not be manipulated, after all!)

When my people landed here, there was no oath, no pledge, no anthem, no flag. Nor was there a city in which to find housing or a job. No established resettlement assistance. No national leader to whom they might appeal for refuge. They had to make things up as they went along, from scratch, and they must have made more than a few errors. But they made it, many of them, and even welcomed more refugees and pilgrims who came later.

There are so many, many stories of pain and loss and peril suffered by those who are new arrivals to the United States. And so many more people who are not yet here. Some of those stories are hard to hear, hard to even imagine.

I think it's my job to carry out acts of welcome and care. But I've been really busy, all my life, just living my life. What needs to change, how must I grow, to expand my personal horizons? That's scary. Already, though, I am supporting English language learning and Citizenship classes through my work at the library. My church reaches out to assist refugees in a variety of ways, and I have done small things to join these efforts. I can do some more.

For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt."

Highlights from the ceremony --