One hundred years ago my Grandfather Cacchio stepped off a boat at Ellis Island and made the trek to the village of Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania. Thus began the history of an American family.
Forty years and eight children later he learned how to sign his name (he couldn’t read and his name were the only words he ever learned to pen), and it was only then that he could become a citizen.
He was a part of the great immigration of 1880 – 1920, but unlike today the United States of America had a confidence about its core. People really believed that this was a good and great country, and that people who moved here should adopt its language and its core values.
The next generation, the generation born here, adapted and blended fully into the fabric of American life. While they retained a certain cultural grounding in the land of their forefathers, they were immersed in English language schools where they learned of our constitution, our history, our cultural legends. The boys played baseball and the girls played hopscotch. They ate both pasta fragiole and hotdogs.
And when war came they fought and bled on the side of freedom. They were no longer Italians, but Italian-Americans.
I was blessed one year to visit the land of my heritage. I visited cousins, absorbed the culture, and reconnected with roots, but it was evident I was not in Kansas anymore. Teddy Roosevelt was right to bemoan the hyphenization of America: I am not an Italian-American; I am an American of Italian descent. I prefer baseball over soccer, watermelon over tomatoes, and country over opera. I still like garlic and Lasagna, but there is nothing in the world like good Kansas City barbecue. E pluribus unum, and don’t ever forget it.
Americans of Italian descent are fully integrated into the fabric of society, serving as governors, Congressmen, Supreme Court Justices, CEOs, Speaker of the House, and Presidential candidates. And I’m jingoistic enough to believe that we are citizens of a greater country.
Which brings me to a larger question. I am an American and a citizen of this country. But I have a citizenship that is even greater than that, for we are all strangers and pilgrims on this earth. This brief ride in orbit will end after some threescore and ten revolutions, and when that time comes neither the land of my heritage nor the land of my heart will avail me much. Along with my brothers and sisters from all the inhabited continents, we declare plainly that we seek a country. (Hebrews 11:14)
Yes, we desire a better country – we all do. But it is God who is preparing a better country for us. And as citizens of his kingdom, we must do what my grandfather and his children did – adopt the ethic of our new land, an ethic contrary to the accepted way of the world.
Read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In three short chapters Jesus talks of transforming hearts and reaching out to God and man, and he sets forth a way of life that would transform our culture of death to a culture of life. Instead of a culture of self, it inspires a culture of service.
Strangers and pilgrims. Could it be any other way for a family whose history leads inexorably westward in search of a better place? Should it be any other way than to adopt the ethic of the kingdom that will one day be home?