Mike's Sunday Letter

--with personal notes
  • I went to Northbrook United Methodist Church today and heard Alison preach.  It was the blessing of the animals worship service there.
  • Annual conference ran four days in Peoria this week:  over 800 churches represented, along with active and retired clergy present.  It is always a wonderful time to connect with colleagues and long time friends.
  • We ordained and commissioned 13 new pastors at the conference.  Most of them I have gotten to know very well as I have worked with them for the past several years (overseeing their work and their oral interviews.)  It was a very humbling moment for me to see the bishop ordain and commission them.
  • Special thanks this week to several of my Chinese friends who helped me pack all my books at Grace Church and move them into the offices at Mattoon.  Most of the garage is also packed and ready to go.  Now for the rooms in the house.
  • The photo here is a photo of a selfie...taken by Scarlette...including herself and Judge Edmond Chang.  He was the presiding judge for her oath of citizenship.  His parents immigrated from Taiwan more than 40 years ago.

June 12, 2016
Watching My Daughter Join the Country
I watched all three of my daughters become citizens of the United States.  Scarlette was the only one who dressed up for the occasion.  She took an oath before a federal judge and got a certificate of citizenship. 
When my older two daughters became citizens, I wasn't paying too much attention to the fact...as I was preoccupied watching them get born.  So many thoughts and feelings flooded my mind in the birthing rooms that I failed, on the occasions, to note the fact that either of them had just become citizens of the U.S.A. 
There are three ways of becoming a U.S. citizen:  to be born in the U.S., to be born elsewhere if your parents are U.S. citizens, or to be "naturalized," by meeting the requirements.  Scarlette was born in China, to Chinese parents, so she had to become a citizen the hard way.  (Although "being born" (even in America) is not "an easy day at work" either!)
Here are the things Scarlette had to do to become a citizen:

1.     Live in the U.S. for 5 years (she moved here in 2007)

2.     Fill out form N-400 (not easy, many people have an attorney do it for them, but we did it ourselves)

3.     Pay the government a $680 fee (my gift to my daughter)

4.     Submit to a biometric criminal background check

5.     Be interviewed extensively by an immigration officer from the Department of Homeland Security

6.     Pass a civics and English test

7.     Wait for them to make a decision

8.     Wait some more, ask congressional office for help

9.     Keep waiting

10.  Finally get an appointment to take the oath

11.  Take the oath and fill out more paperwork

12.  Start fulfilling your responsibilities and enjoying your rights, for the rest of your life!

The day Scarlette took her oath (Thursday) she wasn't the only one there doing that.  There were 140 people from 40 different countries in the same room, taking the same oath, at the same time.  And now they will now have the right to vote (for many of them for the first time in their lives.)  They will have freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and press.  They will be able to run for elected office.  And if accused by the government, they will have the right to be tried by a non-governmental jury of their peers. 
Of course, Scarlette will now have a set of responsibilities that are necessary if this U.S.A. is not going to let us all down.  She will have to obey our laws, respect the rights and beliefs and opinions of others, be informed about current events, vote, obey the laws, pay her taxes, serve on a jury (if asked,) and defend the country (if called.) 
The judge at the swearing-in especially talked about the importance of respecting the beliefs, rights, and opinions of others.  As the judge talked, it occurred to me that we have a double standard in this country.  If you are accidently born beyond our borders, you CANNOT become a citizen if you are intolerant of someone else's beliefs, opinions, or rights.  But such a quality is not required if you happened to be born here.
Every year, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people become naturalized citizens.  There are now 81 million people in the U.S. who immigrated (or whose parents immigrated) and are now citizens. 
In 2014, 1.3 million people moved to the United States.  The leading source country was India, followed by China, followed by Mexico, followed by Canada, followed by the Philippines.  El Salvador, Vietnam, Korea, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Guatemala round out the top 11.  The median average immigrant age is 43 (compared to 35 for native born Americans.) 
Part of why I am celebrating Scarlette's citizenship this week is due to my own gratitude for this country.  Americans gather under the banner of our ideals:  justice and freedom.  We are not defined by race, for no race is excluded.  We are not defined by language, for many languages are spoken, and American talk is still evolving, under the influence of many languages.  We are not defined by a singular religion but rather we are enriched by many religions...as well as many non-religious insights.  We are not a nation beholden to a single political party.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the ballot box and representative government mean that there will be many embarrassing moments in our nation's history.  But the same freedoms that permit us to be occasionally violent, unfair, or boneheaded also become our means to employ our powers for good, for progress, and for our posterity. 
I can't remember when I myself became a citizen, since I was born in Aurora, Illinois.  I can't remember anything from that day.  But to sit in a packed courtroom, a few miles from my birthplace, with 140 people last week...each one WANTING to be an American, each one making a dear sacrifice to attain that relationship, each one entering a covenant to care for ALL other Americans...  Well...even though I can't remember the day I myself became a citizen...I am really glad I got a chance to ponder its meaning...inspired by 140 of my now fellow Americans.  Led by our newest citizens, may I be worthy of the privilege of my birth.  --Mike

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS




J. Michael Smith | 2508 S. Cottage Grove | Urbana | IL | 61801