As we turn our nation toward another election we are, once again, asked to define who we are as citizens of the United States.
This question for me is far more nuanced and complicated than a simple denotation on a state-issued document in the back of my file cabinet. Being an American to me is a way of living, believing, and yes – even dreaming.
I Am the daughter of a working class mother with German-Irish roots whose upbringing rings true through Billy Gardell’s humor and an Egyptian born immigrant. By definition, I am a First generation American. And, I’ve learned that being an American amounts to more than your appearance, the citizenship listed on your birth certificate, the status on your naturalization papers, or your current country of residence.
We are all Americans by virtue of living on her soil, whether we have the paperwork to prove it or not. And just as we all come from different backgrounds, we all have our own ideas of what it means to be living here in the good ol’ US of A. We don’t all look the same. We don’t act the same. We don’t share the same priorities or points of view. But we are all Americans.
The iconic America poet, Carl Sandburg wrote in his poem, “The People Yes,” that we will always return to the nourishing earth for rootholds.
It must not be forgotten though that behind all the occurrences in this history of the country there was a Divine Idea for America!
Two hundred and thirty-four years ago the United States of America was born as the land described by those who laid down the foundation for this country as: “A light to the world”! This country is the prototype of the vision held in the mind of the Divine not only for the people of the United States of America but for the whole world.
As far back as two thousand years B.C., the mystical orders of Egypt were aware of the existence of the great Western Continent called America. In the establishment of this democratic republic, a new race was born—the American Race—defined as: a race of humanity determined and set apart by a conviction that human beings are created free and equal and are entitled to opportunities for perfecting their life, their freedom and the pursuit of their happiness which was not determined based on one’s blood or the size of one’s cranium.
If anyone doubts that our country was founded on the principles of Masonry, one need only look at our One Dollar Bill and the reverse of the ‘Great Seal’ to know that the foundation of our country is anchored in the ancient philosophy of Egypt who had the first democratic leader the world had ever known.
Akhanaton, the very young Priest, King and Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, is described as the first man in recorded history to exemplify social consciousness in the administration of a great nation. He was known as the first pacifist, the first realist, the first monotheist, the first democrat, the first humanitarian and the first internationalist.
It is this ideal of a nation, under the leadership of Akhanaton of ancient Egypt, that those who founded the United States of America sought to emulate on the North American continent.
Lincoln asked whether a nation devoted to the values of liberty, equality, justice and opportunity “so conceived…can long endure.” In these words, he told us a truth about our democracy – that its survival is never guaranteed, and that its success demands wisdom, action and even vigilance from American citizens.
We have been bequeathed freedom, justice and opportunity from the deeds and commitments – even the spilled blood – of Americans who came before us.
We did not earn the inheritance. This nation of unequaled wealth and power, of freedom and opportunity, was given to us. But no matter how rich and powerful it becomes, America is not – and never will be – a finished project. It is always aborning. You and I are handed a work in progress – one that can evolve for good or for ill.
The world is contracting into a neighborhood. And, America, willingly or unwillingly, must face and grapple with this new situation. For purposes of national security, let alone any humanitarian motive, she must assume the obligations imposed by this newly created neighborhood. And, as paradoxical as it may seem, her only hope of extricating herself from the perils gathering around her is to become entangled in that very web of international association, which the Hand of an inscrutable Providence is weaving. We are here today because the success of any democracy is determined by the participation of its citizens.
Establishing peace is not simply a matter of signing treaties and protocols; it is a complex task requiring a new level of commitment to resolving issues not customarily associated with the pursuit of peace.
Universal acceptance of the spiritual principle of the oneness of humankind is essential to any successful attempt to establish world peace. The world is moving on. Its events are unfolding ominously and with bewildering rapidity. The whirlwind of its passions is swift and alarmingly violent. The New World is insensibly drawn into its vortex. . . . Dangers, undreamt of and unpredictable, threaten it both from within and from without. Its governments and peoples are being gradually enmeshed in the coils of the world’s recurrent crises and fierce controversies. . . .
Racism, one of the most baneful and persistent evils, is a major barrier to peace. The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality of the sexes, is one of the most important, though less acknowledged, prerequisites of peace.
The inordinate disparity between rich and poor keeps the world in a state of instability, preventing the achievement of peace. Unbridled nationalism, as distinguished from a sane and legitimate patriotism, must give way to a wider loyalty, to the love of humanity as a whole.
Religious strife, the cause of innumerable wars and conflicts throughout history, is a major obstacle to progress. The challenge facing the world’s religious leaders is to contemplate, with hearts filled with compassion and the desire for truth, the plight of humanity, and to ask themselves whether they cannot, in humility before their God, submerge their theological differences in a great spirit of mutual forbearance that will enable them to work together for the advancement of human understanding and peace.
Democracy is not fixed like a monarchy. It is dynamic. Democracy reflects the will – and above all the action – of each generation of American citizens.
The future of America is not floating in oil wells or bank accounts. The future of America resides in our will to innovate and redefine ourselves each day.
The simple joy that comes with freedom and opportunity. That is what it means to be an American.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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