Learning to be a Citizen

Recently I was asked a thought-provoking question: “How did you learn to be a citizen?” The question prompted a flood of memories, and the glad realization that I had fantastic role models who very intentionally modeled citizenship for me. Something that was also interesting to me as I reflected upon this question is that most of my earliest memories of citizenship have to do with exercising the freedom of assembly. As a young 5 year old, I enjoyed wearing the t-shirt with the face of Martin Luther King Jr. on it that my dad got at the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington. Though I certainly agree with the dictum that “the clothes don’t make the man,” in this case I think having the visage of MLK emblazoned on my chest as a 5 year old gave me the interest in who the man was and what he was about. I was impressed that my dad had gone to that march, and a passion for civil rights was stamped on my heart. Also as a child, I accompanied my dad to a protest against nuclear arms escalation, and another protesting our government’s policy of financial aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. Though I was undoubtedly too young to be aware of all the issues involved in these political situations, I wasn’t too young to see my parents engaging in public demonstration of their conscience, and learning that this as part of being an active citizen of the United States of America.

My instruction on citizenship also came from my participation in Boy Scouts, and the three merit badges that were mandatory to earn the rank of Eagle Scout: Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation, and Citizenship in the World. I remember attending a city council meeting, writing letters to my congressmen, and figuring out how our currency fluctuates in relationship to other world currencies as part of the requirements for these badges. While I was in high school, we got to host an international exchange student from Colombia through Rotary International, and after I graduated from High School, a friend and I got to go down to Colombia to visit her and see her country as well. (Note: Aaron Thornburg, who attends church and is a student at TU is also studying in Colombia this summer. We look forward to hearing his stories about his experience!) I am thankful for the in-depth instruction in citizenship that was necessary to attain these three merit badges. I believe they helped me become an informed citizen rather than a passive observer.

This all came to mind because of the question that sparked the answer as part of a format of open and honest questions that Parker Palmer has developed with the aim of “Healing the Heart of Democracy.” As part of that intention, diverse groups of people form to discuss these and other important issues in a format called “Action Circles.” I learned about this format at our second University Church Network Gathering in Denver July 17-19, and I’m sure more will “percolate” down the road. Also, I noticed an article on our church’s General Board of Church and Society website that the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington will take place on August 28th to continue to advocate for jobs, justice, and freedom. March sponsors are asking that on Aug. 28 at 3 p.m. — approximately the time Dr. King began delivering his famous speech — persons, no matter where they are, pledge to not engage in any violent conduct for 63 minutes. As a Wesleyan who is guided by the General Rules of the church to “Do no harm, do good, and attend upon the ordinances of God,” it is enlightening to think how one might be participating in harm and violence in one’s ordinary day to day life as it is, and seek to make a change to avoid that harm and violence. Will you participate in this commemoration with me?