Why Should We Be Patriotic?
One of the most profound moments of my life came this past March when I visited Ellis Island in New York City. Between 1892 – 1924, more than 22 million immigrants came to America through Ellis Island.
What was it about America that caused so many people to leave everything they had and strike out to build a new life in a foreign country? Freedom.
On September 6, 1774, the First Continental Congress met. Their first act was to vote on a motion to begin their deliberations in prayer. Opposed, because they were such a diverse group, they couldn’t possibly agree on one prayer common to all religious sentiments.
Samuel Adams was known as the Father of the American Revolution. He instigated the Boston Tea party, and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Later became Governor of Massachusetts.
“Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said that he was no bigot and could hear a Prayer from any gentleman of Piety and virtue who was, at the same time, a friend to his Country.”-John Adams
On September 7th 1774, the Continental Congress met for the first time. British troops were bearing down on Boston. These men were risking everything for the sake of freedom. So they agreed they would open their first session in prayer.
Our nation began on its knees.
“They prayed fervently for America, for Congress, and especially the town of Boston. Who can realize the emotion with which they turned imploringly to Heaven? It was enough to melt a heart of stone. I saw tears gush into the eyes of the old, grave Pacific Quakers of Philadelphia.” (John Adams)
Alexis de Tocqueville was a French political thinker and historian. After his travels to America in the early 1800’s, he wrote a two-volume work called Democracy in America. It was his observations about the cause of effect of freedom in America.
“I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors… in her fertile fields and boundless forests, in her rich mines and vast world commerce, in her public school systems and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution.”
“Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom.”
One hundred thirty years later, that light of freedom, founded in faith, shone all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to the village of Trondheim, Norway and beckoned a young man named Ole Fallan.
Two years later, in the village of Songdahl, Norway, a young woman named Kristina Aarestad decided she, too, wanted to build a new life in America. At the age of 16, she left home and family, and set sail for America on the U.S. Luciana.
Kristian Aarestad was my grandmother. And Ole Fallan was my grandfather.
The bright light of freedom created from that flame in the pulpits in America brought them to America.
In September, 1914, both my grandparents became United States citizens. They later met while working on a sheep ranch in Montana and were eventually married.
My Grandfather eventually became a State Senator and the Justice of the Peace in Park County, Montana. About 30 years after he became a citizen, he presided over a ceremony granting citizenship to a new batch of immigrants.
“It is my prayer today that there will be a spiritual awakening that will sweep the country from coast to coast. It can begin now by taking God in as your partner and advocate the teaching of Jesus Christ, who loved you so much that He was willing to die for you.”
So my Norwegian immigrant heritage was much on my mind and in my heart when I walked into the Immigrant Museum at Ellis Island. They have computer terminals where you can look for the immigration records of your ancestors.
I sat down at a terminal and started keying in names and dates for my grandfather. I thought,” this probably isn’t going to work.” But suddenly, up on the screen pops the ship’s manifest that included my grandfather’s name: Ole Ericksen Fallan, November 9th, 1905. And then I found the ship’s manifest for my grandmother.
Last summer, my daughters and I were in Washington, D.C. for a family gathering. I had never been to the National Archives, but the movie National Treasure had given me a real desire to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
As I entered the rotunda room, and approached the display housing the Declaration of Independence, I felt like I was on holy ground. I stood over the Declaration, and became overwhelmed with emotion. I put my hand on the glass cover and pondered what that document meant and how it changed the course of the world.
I moved to the right to the display housing the Constitution. My youngest daughter came up alongside of me, looked up at me and asked “Dad, why are you crying?”
I had to pause for a moment and think about it. Finally, I told her,
“The ideas, the ideals, the virtues and beliefs in these two documents, are what brought my grandfather and grandmother to this country. These documents are why you and I are alive today.”
I was moved to tears because I realized that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, are my citizenship papers.
I’m so very grateful for my gifts of freedom and liberty. And I’m grateful and blessed to hold citizenship in a nation that began on its knees.
Dana Cooper is a radio and television host, as well as a corporate marketing executive. He is also a dedicated Christian, loving husband and father.