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I WON'T DANCE, DON'T ASK ME.
October 11, 2003
 
I was certain that my father ought to have been the president of the United States. He was the wisest man I knew, and he was brave, I knew, since he had been in the army. I was shocked and insulted, then, to learn when I was seven that my father couldn't be president, could never be president: he wasn't born here. The office of the presidency sank just a little in my estimation after that, and I didn't know the half of it.

This morning, I remembered the presidential ambitions I cherished for my dad when NPR reported on an initiative in Congress to repeal that article of the Constitution. The founders never imagined that this land would become a land of immigrants -- why that might be, I don't know, since it was so vast -- and thought of foreigners in terms of the Brits reappearing to take over again. Which, of course, is exactly what it would have been in the case of my dad. But the Statue of Liberty, with her poem of welcome and her torch to guide the refugees into her harbor, was a hundred years into the future. That article of our first constitution wasn't about my dad. It was about imaginary agents of poor old George III, who by the time of its composition was completely dotty and very ill.

Not about my dad. Not about native Austrian Arnold Schwartzenegger, whose gifts for governance we are about to observe in action. It wasn't about native Hungarian George Soros, either, although Bill Gates can run if he wants to: he was born in Seattle and is, therefore, One Of Us. Edward Said couldn't have run for president, no matter how brilliant he was. Some presidents were born in territories, not yet states, but I guess that was all right.

But I didn't think that's what we meant when we talked about Us. Native-born? That's the definition of an American fit to lead the nation? That's about a half step from Free, White and Twenty-one. Maybe a quarter step.

Nothing has strengthened us more than the infusion of cultures that has marked the brief American centuries. And nothing could be more unlovely than the desire of immigrants' children -- which is basically all of us, and not all that long ago -- to pull up the ladder after they climb aboard, so that others may not do what they have done. To assume that the world into which they have come is a world that must remain exactly as it was when they came into it, unrefreshed by the experience of others if it differs from their own experience. To withhold a blessing from others that was freely offered to them. To imagine a superiority in their forebears that earned them a place our newest neighbors should not have. These things consitute a refusal to grow. A decision not to become wiser.

I think of this when I ponder another kind of citizenship battle, that for citizenship in the Church. We're not citizens of the Church, one might point out, and this is so: we're children of God. But we either are or are not God's children, and either all of us are or none of us are. This blessing is not based on our resemblance to the people of the past: we do not earn it by imitating them. We grow into it, into the stature of Christ. Like all spiritual structures, the Church is a gift from God to the children of God, something to help them in their walk on the difficult earth. It is not ours, and we are not its gatekeepers. We do not have it as a matter of right. We don't have the right to marry anybody, either, of either gender: we grow into the agreement to marry, and this agreement is a gift from God. We don't have the right to be ordained clergy, in any order of ministry: we are called into it, and it, too, is a gift from God. We attempt to discern its presence, but it comes from God, and not from us. Cut off the possiblity of its appearance in any part of the body of Christ, and you don't know what you might have cut off within yourself, what you may have excised from your own future, what God might have wanted you to know and experience that you have decided not to know.

I don't know what it is to decide not to know. To be asked to dance and refuse. To be offered a gift and to hand it back -- No, thank you -- and look away.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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