Recently, I had the privilege to do something I don’t think many Americans get to do. I attended a U.S. Naturalization ceremony for my friend Buddy who has chosen to move his national citizenship from Macedonia to the United States.
Buddy was so excited. A rare grin plastered his face when he asked me and my husband to attend the naturalization ceremony. He didn’t know when it would be, but he would let us know. When the date finally arrived, I had already made plans with other people, but when I told Buddy’s sister I couldn’t make it, her fallen face was enough to make me cause four other people to reschedule our meeting. This was important!
Even though I sensed it was significant for me to be there, I didn’t realize what a big deal it was until I arrived at the courthouse. We went through a security search that made airport security look like a stroll down the Washington Mall. The guard pulled me aside, asking me to display all the items in my purse her x-ray machine couldn’t identify including my monocular, my digital recorder, my lighted magnifier and my husband’s glucometer. We had to leave our cell phones in the car and believe it or not, she almost confiscated my digital recorder and the glucometer! For naturalization ceremonies, cameras were acceptable in the courtroom, but the other stuff – no. I had to promise not to use the recorder and to call her if Jack needed a glucose reading!
The courtroom itself had a party atmosphere. Cameras were clutched in hands, children ran freely, people with happy faces congregated in small clusters. All were dressed in their best, some in brightly colored native costume. The court spent an hour checking final paperwork with the 34 applications from 15 different countries. At two o’clock, the Honorable Judge brought the court to order.
The judge reiterated to us that this was indeed a big deal even before any of us set foot in the courtroom. The applicants, who already had to be permanent residents of the United States for at least five years and be over eighteen years of age, had to complete a six-page then an eight-page application. They had to pay a $680 fee and complete a 100 question American history and government test.
Then she had all thirty-four applicants stand and take an oath:
“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.”
We heard speech after speech from important people. Each applicant was called forward, presented a certificate of citizenship, then ushered one by one down an aisle which their adoring family turned into paparazzi. They disappeared down a hallway for a coffee and cookie reception sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
As I listened to the solemn voices repeat the words of the oath, I felt ashamed. How much I take the citizenship of my own country for granted. How much I take the rights and privileges of living in the strongest and richest country in the world as my due when I’ve done nothing more than be born on this soil – and I really had nothing to do with that either.
I wonder – how would life and attitudes in the United States be different if every eighteen year old was required to take such an oath, to support AND defend the laws of the land, to bear arms, to serve in noncombatant service and to perform work of national importance under civilian direction? The cynic in me says that people would probably take such an oath about as seriously as most people take their wedding vows “to have and to hold until death do us part.”
We could tell the thirty-four applicants that day were taking it seriously. We could tell by the way they posed for pictures while holding their certificates. Even more poignant were the few who poured over their certificates while walking slowly down the aisle, their faces a mixture of awe, pride, and satisfaction. To them, it was a big deal.
My experience of that day brought yet another thought to mind. I bear citizenship in another Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. Do I take my citizenship in God’s Kingdom as seriously as those thirty-four new citizens of the United States? Do I see it more a privilege than a right? Am I willing to “renounce and abjure” all allegiance to the prince of this world and support and defend my Lord’s Constitution, known as the Bible, against all enemies both foreign and domestic? Have I made that commitment to my Lord without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion?
A commitment to Christ is serious business. Yet, just as the smiles of those new citizens showed pride and excitement, just as it was important to Buddy and his family that I be there for this big event, my entrance into the Kingdom of God is a big deal. It’s worth the solemn oath. It’s worth the party atmosphere.
Pass the plate of cookies, Gabriel, and Michael, can I have another cup of coffee?