"Cornerstone of Inauguration Day"
January 20, 2009
Greetings and grace to you in the spirit of Christ.
"So then, you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord." (The Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2)
My grandfather, August Christian Schneider, was an immigrant to this country in 1890. He came before Ellis Island opened. He was about 12 years old. Early on he found work in the coal mines in southern Illinois, not unlike the mines of the Ruhr Valley of his home in Westphalia. Eventually he became the secretary of the United Mine Workers local.
My grandfather was very patriotic. He loved this country. Part of that love was something of a necessity for Germans living where he did during the days of the First World War. There was a mistrust of German immigrants and even some acts of vandalism and violence. It was important to show that you were a good American.
My grandfather died when I was very young, so I never had the time or opportunity to explore what my grandfather's immigration meant. Several years ago I was going through a trunk with many things from my grandparents and from my family of origin on my mother's side.
In this trunk I found my grandfather's citizenship papers. In his early adulthood he had become a US citizen. When I read the paper, the language and the meaning of it hit me right between the eyes. His loyalty and love of this land was clear. The certificate read:
On this day, August C. Schneider, a subject of the Emperor of Germany became a citizen of the United States of America.
It is hard for me to imagine the power and the amazing transformation of that little phrase on that piece of paper, now over 100 years old. No wonder my grandfather was grateful to his adopted country. He hadn't just moved from one country to another. He hadn't just given up one national citizenship for another. This wasn't geography or loyalty alone but metaphysics. He had changed states of being. He had gone from being a "subject" of another human being, the emperor, to being a "citizen", free to claim the responsibilities and privileges of a fundamental human freedom and dignity.
No wonder it was the proudest day of his life.
"So, now, you are no longer strangers or sojourners but fellow citizens and members of the household...."
"That's plain enough, isn't it? You're not longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You're no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here...." (Peterson: "The Message")
I thought of my grandfather today. I couldn't watch the Inauguration because of meetings here in the office, but I have watched the Election Night gala in Grant Park in Chicago and the marvelous concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday. What I understand of the Letter to the Ephesians and of my grandfather's citizenship document is what I see in the faces.
I love the faces with looks of pure joy. Smiles and cheers and overflowing joy. But what I really love are other faces, many of them of older Black people. And they look stunned! They can't believe it. This Black couple walking down Pennsylvania Avenue. They never thought they'd see the day. But they now have, by the grace of God.
And stunned is just about the right response. Just like I was stunned to think of my grandfather, the "subject", many of those older Black folks were thinking of their ancestors the "slaves." A.C. Schneider's journey was long both in its traverse of the Atlantic and its traverse of states of human existence, but their ancestors' journey was much longer on both counts.
Hear Peterson's translation of the ending of that chapter 2 of the Letter to the Ephesians:
God is building a home. God's using us all-irrespective of how we got here.... We see it taking shape day after day-a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.
Rev. David Moyer