On being a citizen

Sometimes we take being a citizen of this country for granted. It’s a privilege and a gift. Read below a reflection by The Rev. David Moyer about his grandfather’s journey to citizenship in the U.S. Thanks to The Rev. Nansi Hawkins for sharing this story:

“My grandfather, August Christian Schneider, was an immigrant to this country in 1890. He came before Ellis Island opened. He was about 12 years old. Early on he found work in the coal mines of southern Illinois. This area was not unlike the mines of the Ruhr Valley he had left behind in Westphalia. Eventually he became Secretary of the United Mine Workers local.

My grandfather was very patriotic. He loved this country. Part of that love was something of a necessity for Germans living where he did during the days of the First World War. There was a mistrust of German immigrants and even some acts of vandalism and violence. It was important to show that you were loyal to America.

My grandfather died when I was young, so I never had the time of opportunity to explore what his immigration meant to him. Several years ago I was going through a trunk with many things from my grandparents and from my family of origin on my mother’s side. In this trunk I found my grandfather’s citizenship papers. In his early adulthood he had become a U.S. citizen. When I read the paper, the language and meaning of it hit me right between the eyes. His loyalty and love of this land was clear. The certificate read: ‘On this day, August C. Schneider, a subject of the Emperor of Germany, became a citizen of the United States of America.’

It is hard for me to imagine the power and transformation of that little piece of paper, now over 100 years old. No wonder my grandfather was grateful to his adopted country. He hadn’t just moved from one country to another. He hadn’t just given up one national citizenship for another. This wasn’t geography or loyalty alone, but metaphysics. He had changed states of being. He had gone from a ‘subject’ of another human being, the emperor, to being a ‘citizen’, free to claim the responsibilities and privileges of a fundamental freedom and dignity. No wonder it was the proudest day of his life.”

Today all across our country people are voting to elect a president, a variety of other officials, and they are also making their voices heard about a host of other proposed amendments, local ordinance changes and referenda of various sorts. After the voting is done, and the yard signs, bumper stickers and PAC ads are finished (thanks be to God), I pray that we remember this fundamental, metaphysical statement about who we are – citizens, with all of the fundamental freedoms, responsibilities and privileges that come with that state of being.

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1 Response to On being a citizen

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