Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday Pomp and Circumstance

This morning I went with a friend to the Palm Sunday service at the National Cathedral.  It was a fabulous, glorious display of pomp and circumstance.  Fitting for the victorious King of kings and Lord of lords.  And the service ended with one of my favorite hymns, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”  The entire service I was profoundly struck with the idea that the Christian God is unique in that He encourages people to think about His account of Himself and humanity, of His offer of salvation, before accepting it as true.  He must therefore be unwaveringly sure of His deity and truth if He affords His creation the freedom to explore, question and think before accepting His claims.  I don’t yet know of any other god confident enough to encourage its creation to question its existence.  This is one reason why I find YHWH trustworthy, even when I have questions.  But back to Palm Sunday.  I love appropriately flashy displays of grandeur when the person, or God in this case, is fully deserving of such honor.  The melodies of the choir floated over our heads like ribbons of gold, the strains of the organ thundered in our chests, rich and exact, the 75 person strong processional marched forward with joyful palm branches – and all of this made me wish with all my heart that I could have been in Jerusalem the day Jesus entered the city on a humble donkey.  To just catch a glimpse of Him, to see Him smile and wave, to hear His voice in the timbre of a man, to lay my own palm branch down for Him to pass over.  But we ended with the hymn I mentioned above.  Today, as many of you know, marks the beginning of the week remembering Jesus’ passion.  I encourage you all to think about how extraordinary YHWH is, that His love for His creation rests so deep within His soul that He would not rest until He paved a way for all people to be reconciled with Him.  He did not give up.  And He will not force anyone to believe Him.  So kind and so good.  I pray that all of you may understand Easter this year with more clarity than ever before, and that you may experience freedom as a result of God’s rich love.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown.
O sacred Head, what glory,
What bliss, till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spring in the Capitol

Another full week in the political capitol of the United States.  This week had the usual monotony (not that there is anything inherently wrong with monotony sometimes) mixed with an unusually early bloom of spring, which quietly overturned the monotony.  As I walked home from work one evening I was dodging the low tree branches that always threaten to poke my eye out, when I noticed that there were baby buds on the ends of those branches.  Hallelujah!  Spring has officially and completely sprung!  Some of the wonderfully pink cherry blossoms are blooming, flowers of every color are bright and cheery in all the little front yards of the row-houses, and the air is thawing.  Actually, the air never did completely freeze, but it was cold enough for me to now appreciate the warmer temperatures beginning to grace this little corner of the earth.  Every year there is something about spring that ushers in, not only physical life, but spiritual life as well.  I’m not one to believe in an all-surpassing power of depression, against which people are helpless; but I do always appreciate the longer days, extra sunshine, chirping birds, and general flowering of life that are spring, especially after weeks of cold and darkness, and sometimes seemingly endless monotony that are winter.  Sometimes I can be a melancholy sort, especially in the winter, and so at this middle point of my internship I am very thankful to be experiencing the most hopeful of God’s four seasons.  Which brings me to another point.

I came to D.C. hoping that my romantic notions of our country would be subverted, and replaced with a clear vision of what America is today.  For weeks I’ve been hoping that I would come to a new appreciation of America, one that made me no longer want to move to England out of frustration with political grid-lock, gluttonous material culture, and all-consuming ambition that rears its ugly head all over the place here in Washington (it would be an extreme move, I know).  I found my hope realized this week while I was giving a tour of the Capitol building.  Giving tours is actually one of my favorite duties because I get to show people the part of the American political stage that belongs to every single American in a way that the White House and Supreme Court don’t.  Congress, being most directly connected to the people, is my favorite branch of government and why I love the Capitol building, where Congress meets.  The Capitol does not belong to a single officer, or a select very few justices – it belongs to 535 separate members.  The Capitol is magnificently, directly, and closely connected to the people because of its many elected members who represent all the different ideas and cultures, independence and hope, of American people.  Not that any of this is revelatory, but it is why I passionately love our Congress.  And part of why I appreciate the wisdom and courage of our Founding Fathers to try a philosophical political experiment such as our government.  It is also why I have plenty of reason to hope for America, and won’t run off to England or Ireland or Germany (all places of my ancestry). 

The Capitol was built with deliberate symbolism in mind.  At first, I thought it was pretentious and it irritated me to the core.  But now, I’ve softened a little towards the Capitol building, and city.  A film in the visitor center calls the foundations of the Capitol “graceful and granite hard”.  I can now see that as true.  There are no frills here, just an honest experiment in democratic philosophy that has been tested for over 200 years, and emerged successful.  So successful in fact, that the majority of the world depends upon us.  Whether you like that or not, it was no small feat to rise internationally to be the last great hope of many nations, of many people.  In the movie “The Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher comments that England has her history, but America has her philosophy.  I’ve never been more proud to stand by America.  The freedom we enjoy today (and it is still freedom, though arguably significantly less than even 50 years ago) was hard-earned and I wish I could thank the millions of people before me who worked hard to make my America such a wonderful place to call home.  But that is one reason why I’m here to work, rather than in a more aesthetically pleasing corner of the world with fewer angry drivers and more space for my soul to breathe and meadows to stroll through.  Gratitude –  for the freedom that has been so generously preserved for me and you, and that needs preserving at all costs.   

Cheers to you all this spring day and  may you enjoy the extra hour of evening sunlight that begins tomorrow!         

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Return from Writer's Wasteland

I will shamelessly blame my lack of blogging on my lack of inspiration from my inability to find a solid patch of dirt to walk on or pastoral landscape in which my soul can rest.  I have now completed just about half of my internship.  So I figure it’s about time to begin writing before this blog becomes obsolete with the close of my intern status (not a happy thought).  Coming from a semester at Oxford, making the switch to a congressional intern was what I equivocate to mental, cultural, and intellectual whiplash.  It’s been a good adapting experience, to say the least.  Between my daily tasks of answering phones, running errands for staff, attending hearings, writing memos and giving tours of the Capitol building, I smile.  Because I am watching our government work.  It is not this abstract, philosophical notion with some names and faces attached to it for me anymore.  Our government is run by people, who eat, sleep, breathe, read, walk, smile, live…just like you and I.  Some work here for power, for self-gain, for influence.  But some work here on behalf of the people they love back home, really.  These good and wise people exist here, and so I still have hope, even after a few months of observations from my fresh, newbie eyes.

As far as living in D.C. goes, it took me a while to warm up to it.  I was fondly attached to Oxford and basically anything English when I came.  Between England and Wyoming, I’ve been used to seeing and experiencing scenes of natural and architectural beauty my whole life.  Washington’s best assets are not even remotely related to anything beautiful.  However, I was determined to find something pleasing to my eye here, and I found it in the vivid and piercing shades of magenta and gold in the sunsets.  I tend to be profoundly affected by first impressions of places I visit, so here is a clip of something I wrote when I first arrived:

My romantic notions of America have been thoroughly subverted.  And now I'm in a holding pattern of thought while I try to figure out how to resituate/rebalance my patriotism with my distaste and frustration with politics here.  My subversion actually began with the architecture; walls seem to speak to me and leave deeper impressions than most other things.  I expected the buildings to all look ridiculously new in comparison with Oxford, but I didn't expect them to be as uninviting as I've found them to be.  I mean, I'm in the capitol buildings (for these purposes: the Capitol, Library of Congress, Senate and House buildings which are symbolic of our representative government - of the people, by the people and for the people - and are therefore supposedly my buildings too.  But they speak of an imposing and powerful force.  They boast of a nation that aspires to be greater than Rome, the greatest republic to grace the earth...until America.  It's as if they're not to be used, but rather displayed.  The buildings of Europe are so well-worn and comforting in contrast to the capitol buildings.  There is absolutely nothing else like running my hand along the banister in an ancient cathedral stairwell, or holding the top of the pew in front of me in those churches.  There is something beautiful about how that wood was touched by people in search of communion with God.  There is nothing divinely beautiful about the capitol.  These aren’t fair comparisons, but I can’t help contrasting them tonight.  Buckingham palace even seemed more inviting than the capitol in some ways.  As did Westminster. 

So there you have it, a glimpse of an early impression Washington D.C. left on me. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

― Thomas Jefferson

Read and listen.  Then educate yourself on the upcoming election and prepare to vote.  Those who vote reserve the right to become upset with the government.  Those who don't vote, or who vote without responsibly learning about the candidates, reserve the obligation to not complain when the government upsets them.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Weekends in D.C. = Museum Time

Today I went to the Holocaust museum and memorial with two fellow interns and newbies to the city.  This was my first museum event of the season.  I contemplated sharing something more lighthearted for the first post on this blog, but I was so deeply moved this afternoon that I couldn't help but start here -    

My righteous anger raged throughout my entire visit, but I held back my tears and nausea for most of the museum.  Until the last floor with the most gruesome exhibits – of the concentration camps.  I first walked through a rail car in which the prisoners rode to the camps.  Though it was clean, restored, and likely a replica, I felt as though someone had punched my stomach as I walked through, leaving me hollow and empty inside.  Then I walked under an iron cast of the archway into Auschwitz with the heading – Arbeit Macht Frei – Work Will Make You Free.  How dare someone make such a mockery of freedom!  The injustice of the words on this archway has always made my blood boil, but never as hot as today.  And not just for the actions of WWII, but for all blatant disregards of justice that have caused the unnecessary deaths of millions of people.  People.  Men, women, children.  People made in the image of God with souls, minds to think and hearts to love and be loved. 

Then I came upon actual bunk beds from Auschwitz on display.  I couldn’t help but shed tears.  A bed is supposed to be a place of refuge, where you lay your body down at night in its most vulnerable state, and gain restoration for the next day.  But not these beds.  Sometimes wood is comforting, as in the cathedrals and monasteries of Europe.  But sometimes it is wretched.  These beds were wretched.  I could hardly stand to look at them.  Thousands of people slept on them in the most hellish of places on earth, where the thoughts, sounds, smells and sights of death permeated every aspect of life.  None of whom should ever have had to endure such horrors.  My tears have still not stopped.  And I cry, not only because of the tragedy of WWII, but because we have not fully learned from the tragedy.  There are people who, like Hitler, believe that socialism will still save the world’s economic crisis.  Shed blood has proven time and again that it won’t.        

Impressions.  These are what I am left with.  Deeply profound impressions and emotions.  And a searing, burning passion to fight against any socialistic, communistic, fascist or tyrannical regime that threatens not only my country, but all the people of the world.  It took only one man with a vision to drive one of the most disgusting wars the world has seen.  This man had charisma, organization, a clear goal, and most importantly he could communicate it with passion and hope (albeit a false hope).  The people who received his vision and hoped in it were hungry, for both food and leadership.  They weren’t inherently evil themselves.  They were simply hungry.  And desparate hungers of any sort will drive many men to drastic measures, into confusion, and to behaviors that would be unacceptable under other circumstances.  Hunger.  A lack of basic necessities - a home, job, food.  The face of death.  These elements try the soul of man like nothing else in the world.  And Hitler, a single man, cast his vision into this void and filled it – with ideas.  Ideas of socialism, racism, anti-Semitism.  He instilled a fear of capitalism, of the ‘other’, of tyranny.  Yes, he used his unjust tyranny to ironically instill a different and radically misguided fear of tyranny – of the Jews.  These ideas led to one of the worst genocides in history, and one of the bloodiest wars.  A single man with a hatred of capitalism and Jews, a vision to exalt the German working class, and a desire for power who knew how to feed his ideas to the hungry masses.  And I shudder at the thought that a single man who was dedicated to his ideas changed the world so drastically. 

If it only took one man to ignite the fire and fan into flame what became WWII, then I have great hope.  Strange, you think?  No, for I think there are many good people today who are fighters, who see with clarity and love with abandon.  And above all, I have hope because my God is raising up leaders for the coming crises.  For they will come, they always do.  Our nation may be hungry for leaders today and tomorrow and the next year.  Our economy may fall further before it rises, another attack on our soil may come before we strengthen our military, another disastrous president may hold office before a true leader emerges.  But America has never tolerated oppression without fighting back.  One day soon, we will have a good leader, with many to support him or her.   We are still the last great hope for thousands around the world.   And for 236 years we have stood united for freedom, liberty, justice and peace, longer than most all other democracies of the modern world.  The Obama administration has effectively implemented oppressive socialistic policies, but they will not last forever.  Let us at the very least remember that WWII is one example of how socialism has been proven, by the deaths of millions, to be  ineffective for the prosperity, freedom and justice of a nation.  Let not their blood be spilt in vain with yet another experiment in socialism.  It will lead to tyranny and oppression.          

We can, and we must, learn from history.  Then we must work diligently and tirelessly to keep the horrors of history from being repeated. 

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.  Make them known to your children and your children’s children.”  Deuteronomy 4:9, engraved on the wall of the memorial room.