I am the senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida. These are my thoughts about faith, life, family, church, and a lot of other important and unimportant things.

Citizenship

Most of us take our American citizenship for granted.

OK, that may not be true. But that’s how I felt last Wednesday.

For the first time ever, I got to experience a citizenship naturalization ceremony. Most of our staff team at St. James went to the Tampa Convention Center early in the morning to witness Mariam Nicholas, our facilities assistant, become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Before 9:30 AM last Wednesday morning, Mariam was a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. After 9:30 AM, Mariam was a citizen of the United States of America.

Parts of the ceremony were a little bit cheesy. The PowerPoint and Lee Greenwood didn’t mix well. One of the speakers representing the U.S. government needed some public speaking tips. (The gov’t. could learn a few lessons from NASCAR on doing patriotism well. Seriously.) And yet, it was still a deeply, deeply moving ceremony. Very patriotic, very exuberant, very emotional. I am so happy for Mariam and her husband, and for the 400+ persons from over 70 countries who became U.S. citizens on that day. It was clearly one of the greatest moments in their lives, and it was a moment all of us from St. James will never forget.

Most of us spend a lot of time complaining about our government, regardless of which party is in power. We gripe about taxes, worry about the effect of Obamacare, argue about our national debt, and debate whether or not we should be in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We rant about how socialist Obama is and how stupid Bush 43 was. We fret over the long-term viability of Social Security and Medicare. And yet, there I was, in a room of over 400 immigrants (and 400 more later that day, according to rumors), who think that the United States is the greatest country in the world. So much so that they were willing to renounce their former citizenships and pledge an oath of allegiance to the United States of America. They promised to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law, perform noncombatant service in the U.S. Armed Forces, and perform work of national importance under civilian direction.

Immediately after taking their oaths, the whole room ERUPTED into a standing ovation of applause, tears of joy, hugs, kisses, and flag-waving. When the commotion finally settled down, one man from somewhere in the front of the room shouted, in a voice filled with emotion, “THANK YOU AMERICA!” and the place erupted again.

His accent sounded Cuban, but I couldn’t see exactly who shouted it. I had too many tears in my eyes. (I have tears in my eyes again as I write this.)

Do we live in a perfect country? Far from it. Are our foreign and domestic policies beyond criticism? Absolutely not. We’ve made some pretty dumb moves throughout our history, things that we look back upon with regret as a nation. We’re still making some dumb choices even today. I’m not a fan of many policies our current president supports, and our Congress seems more inept than ever in solving our nation’s woes. And yet… immigrants still come to our shores by the millions to seek freedom, opportunity, and the American way of life. We must be doing many things right as a country. We are still the land of opportunity. Land of the free, home of the brave.

I have often taken my American citizenship for granted. Last Wednesday, I got a dose of reality. Many people risk their lives to come here. For 400+ persons, becoming U.S. citizens last Wednesday was one of the greatest moments in their lives. Witnessing that event was one of the greatest moments in MY life.

Welcome to citizenship in the United States of America, Mariam!

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