glory of god

glory of god

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Focus on Faith: On Presidents, Immigration, & the American Dream

The following was written for the Focus on Faith column in the Wakefield Daily Item.  

Earlier this month, as I was visiting my family in Minneapolis for our Christmas celebrations, my mother and I took a side trip to St. Paul to undertake some research at the Minnesota Historical Society Library.  Included in its archives are old church records, immigration and citizenship records, birth and death records, 150 years of newspapers, and more.  Our mission was to find information on my great-grandparents who emigrated from Sweden around 1890. 

While we didn’t find everything we were hoping for, especially details on where in Sweden my great-grandmother was born, we did find church and state records on their marriage in a Swedish Episcopal Church in Minneapolis 1899 and their U.S. citizenship applications.  The latter documents, especially, are dramatic.  In them, my great-grandparents stated their desire to become naturalized United States citizens and therefore renounced their allegiance to the King of Sweden and Norway (as the two Scandinavian kingdoms were joined at that time). 

Seeing those documents, with my great-grandparents’ signatures, made me wonder if the decision to come to this new nation was difficult for them, if they ever thought of their previous homes with longing, or if they embraced with joy all of the challenges and the opportunities that life in America presented.  I suspect they lived with a combination of these varied emotions, but over time settled well into the new realities of life here, seeking to make a better life for themselves and their children than they knew in their far away homeland.

I was thinking about my immigrant great-grandparents earlier this week while I was watching President Obama’s inauguration.  I was thinking of how our nation has evolved since 1890 and how the American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the promise of a land in which all people are created equal, that drew my ancestors across the ocean to this place is still burning in the hearts of American citizens and immigrants alike today.  I also thought of how hard-fought the realization of that dream and promise has been for many and how the struggle is on-going for others.  Whatever our political persuasions, the inauguration of President Obama and the vision he articulated for an America that includes all of God’s people who call this nation home is one that I believe should draw us together. 

In a particularly eloquent moment in his inaugural address the president reminded us of the struggle to realize opportunity and equality in our nation, invoking the memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  President Obama said: "Not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes; tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice.  We the people today declare that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal--is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth."

We may, and probably will, differ on the best way to create the unity and freedom that lies at the heart of the American dream, but goal of one people and one nation—made of different origins, faiths, genders, ages, sexual orientations, races, and even political persuasions—can,
I believe, help us transcend the disagreements that have been so fractious in recent decades and guide us to look toward an American future shining brightly with promise and hope.  As a Christian and priest, I would add that it is the future that God hopes for us and will enable us to bring to fulfillment, together, if we rely upon him for help.       

© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell