My parents represented the best of the American idea. My father’s ancestors set foot on American soil shortly after the Mayflower brought the pilgrims. And my mother was the child of immigrants. My father was the last of his family line to be born in the same area his ancestors settled in Maine, and my mother and her siblings were the first of hers born outside of Denmark.
Both were proud of their heritage, and so our holidays were a mix of dishes from both Denmark and New England; baked beans and clam chowder, floderand and vanilla kranse.
But the blueberry pie, the crown of every celebration, represented our family best: wild Maine blueberries baked inside a pie crust made from a recipe brought on the boat from Denmark.
I have been to the home of my American ancestors many times; have touched the tombstones and visited the old sites. I have also been to the tiny Danish villages of my grandparents, and toured Ellis Island, imagining them sailing past the Statue of Liberty to make their way in this new country.
This is the beauty and the challenge of the American dream. I have two ethnicities; my husband has six. Our children’s ethnicities span a number of continents and cultures through the gift of adoption. As each generation passes, we lose our ethnic distinctives and become just – American.
Genesis chapter 10 describes how God scattered people all over the world, giving them new languages and places to call home. And now we gather again, peoples from every corner of the world, to this great experiment that is America.
It has been a hard and beautiful experiment. Sometimes we are at our best – the city on a hill and the rescuer against tyranny. Other times, we are at our shameful worst. What will finally come of it, I don’t know.
Every generation wrestles with civil unrest, with the failure of our leaders, and with their unrelenting quest for power. Time and again the people we elect to represent us become mired in power struggles and a bloated system that runs on underhanded deals and party posturing. So far we have managed to keep our union but it’s becoming plain that our sins will continue to tear at the weakening seams of our republic.
I am blessed to live far from the violence and destruction in the cities, and have a secure position in the majority culture around me. But that doesn’t mean that I should turn away from what is happening outside my circle. The very least I can do is to listen well to the pain and the anger – to listen and to pray that this noble experiment called the United States will find a way through to a better union someday.
Above all, I must remember that I am a citizen of heaven first, and an exile in this world. My American credentials might be stronger than most, but at the end of the day, my allegiance lies in a higher kingdom. And it is the principles of that higher kingdom that must inform my citizenship in this one.
In the meantime, I will continue to serve blueberry pie at our family gatherings and remind myself and my children how we are all privileged to be part of this impossible dream. And I will continue to hope, as Abraham Lincoln said, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”