Welcome to this week’s
This week, which encompasses a holiday in the U.S., Independence Day, I found myself in the beautiful state of Vermont.
I was not there on vacation, but the time away, amongst the beauty of the hills, and far away from many everyday responsibilities surely made the time away feel more like a vacation, though I did not do typical vacation-y sort of things.
On July 4 I found myself on the Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site in Plymouth Notch, where numerous festivities were scheduled for the day.
One of the more fascinating things, however, was a naturalization ceremony.
As part of the day’s festivities, an outdoor tent was set up to serve as a courthouse for the ceremony. It was certainly quite special and much different than the typical courthouse ceremony; more spectators were allowed, there were a few speakers, some singing, wonderful remarks by the presiding judge, and of course, the oaths taken by the new citizens. Afterward, they shook the hands of the judge, received their certificates, along with other small gifts, such as a small flag, and a laminated placemat with the pictures of all the presidents.
At this particular ceremony, 20 immigrants from 11 different countries became U.S. citizens. What was particularly striking was not only the location, the events themselves (which would not occur in the usual courtroom), but the remarks of the judge. His words were educational, instructive, and hopeful. I wish I had the transcript of the short speech, but essentially he spoke of this country’s history and the current situation, and warmly welcomed the new citizens, saying, “You are welcome here.” After his speech was over, he received a standing ovation.
What was so lovely for me to see was that the audience also agreed. Under a tent, in rural Vermont, with a couple of hundred strangers, there was a feeling of likemindedness and camaraderie over the issue of welcoming a stranger.
You may be wondering why there was a naturalization ceremony at this particular location? I learned that President Coolidge supported immigration. Further, he signed the Indian Citizen Act in 1924, which granted American citizenship to Native Americans. He was eventually granted honorary tribal membership in the Sioux tribe. I think it was a superb way to celebrate July 4th.
How does one become a citizen of the U.S.? This page outlines the process and who is eligible. What rights does the U.S. Constitution grant its citizens? Here is what the 14h amendment states.
What is the oath of allegiance that new citizens must take? Read it here. or read it below:
Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
I was pondering this quote. The U.S. requires those born outside of the U.S. to take this oath, but not those born in the U.S., as they are granted automatic citizenship. But I wonder how many U.S. born citizens actually know what it truly means to be a citizen, where these rights and privileges can easily be taken for granted? Think about a person born in another country who comes to the U.S., desires to renounce citizenship and allegiance to their country of origin and birth; such people truly know what it means and have decided that being a U.S. citizen is worth it. We still live in an amazing country (with all of its problems) – and watching that ceremony with all of those people around me celebrating the new citizens was a wonderful reminder of that.
I was naturalized myself when I was 16 years old and the event was held in a courthouse. I took the same oath above. After the ceremony, interestingly enough, one of the gifts I received was a Bible. It was a hardcover, gold covered Good News Bible, and it was the first Bible I had ever owned.
When I made a profession of faith a few years prior and was baptized, I still did not have a Bible. The only Bible in my house was a black, leather-bound King James Bible, which was given to my father as a gift from the pastor of a local church. I had begun reading that Bible but found it difficult to understand. The Good News Bible, though it may not be the best in terms of translations, was much easier to understand and I was happy to have it.
I’m doubtful that Bibles are still handed out nowadays.
If you are looking for a nonpartisan, no-nonsense description of the current immigration debate, how Americans feel about immigration, what legislation Congress has considered, what actions Presidents have taken recently, and how states are responding, here is an excellent, succinct, nonpartisan article by the Council on Foreign Relations.
What is a refugee? What is an immigrant? How does an immigrant get here, and how long does it take to become a citizen? What are the facts? What are the myths? What can individuals do and how should a Christian respond? Is there a possible policy reform that is both sensible and compassionate? The book, Welcoming the Stranger, written by World Relief leadership and re-released a few days ago, tackles those questions.
I do recommend some learning and reading on one’s own about the immigration process and understanding both sides of the issue before coming to a conclusion or an opinion. If we want to be thinkers, and not reactionary and emotional responders only, we must do our own research, spend time asking questions, listening to the answers, thinking, and praying. We need a nation of thinkers and rationality in our public discourse. We can each do our own part in our small corners, though we may be one person, and feel small in the large sea of ideas and people and thinkers, we can still influence the small corners we inhabit by exemplifying compassion, common sense, and rationality. And yes, all three can and do co-exist.
Do you know any immigrants? Are they friends? Do you know any refugees? Have you ever been to a naturalization ceremony? How can you get involved in your community? Learning about the process and the issues is one thing, and talking to and befriending those directly involved is another part of the process of understanding.
I’ll end today’s post with a fabulous quote by Coolidge that I really liked.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge (1932)