Friday, July 30, 2010

Washington DC Thoughts

If the last post was about "I must decrease, He must increase," this post is about a town where the opposite's true, where power hangs in the sky like smog and scandal is a matter not of "if" but of "when."
Washington DC is a city of new gods. In places it's almost exactly what a Greek citizen would see in Athens, what Paul gestured to on Mars Hill. The random larger-than-life statues of liberators and generals that cars speed past all look the same except to historians. And I was wondering, now that the WWII memorial is complete, will we ever be able to build white marble monuments again, or will every new war monument have to be like the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials, black and reflective?

As an aside about the WWII memorial, it is incoherent and jumbled, but I think that just makes the architecture of the moment more suitable for a truly global conflict. I don't think it throws off the emptiness of the Mall. The Mall's still really big. (Rule for DC: Always allow 15 extra minutes for walking anywhere.)

Perhaps it was the original Washington Monument on display in the Museum of American History that sums up this visit to DC. My first reaction is that it was a statue of Zeus, but when I got around to the front, it was George himself looking back at me. At first I'd had enough of all the neo-classical new empire symbolism, but then looking closer, the way he holds his lightning bolt, er, sword, stood out. The sword is backwards, Washington stepping down and handing power back to the people after two terms. I can get behind that (actually, that was my first viewpoint!).
And then there's the Lincoln memorial, perhaps the most like a Greek temple in style and form but the least like one inside. I mean on the inside walls, not the Zeus-like statue of Lincoln. On the walls are two of the most sublime collections of words in the English language: the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. I am going to make a tradition now, anytime I'm in DC, of stopping by the Lincoln Memorial and reading the Second Inaugural aloud (under my breath, I'm not THAT kind of tourist). It is an amazing political document and poem. As a theological document, the basic idea is the kind any follower of Jesus should adopt after immersing oneself in the Gospels. But the truly theologically amazing part of it is how it puts that solid theology into practice in few enough words to fit on a wall. Not since MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN has the writing on the wall been so significant and succinct. Everyone should read it.
So in this city of white marble and sharp-edged grassy fields trampled and wilted, there are monuments to empire, as in every empire's capital. But some of those monuments are to something more, to handing back power and to the humility of forgiving even the worst of human nature after the worst of wars. Those make me proud of my country.
[Reference song: "Our Song" by Joe Henry off the Citizens album.]


Eric said...

Humility from this administration and congress? Well, we can (and should) certainly pray. Pray and prepare.

lauriemcfarland said...

Humility from past administrations or past congresses? :) You can't be in politics in this country without the other side being offended by your lack of humility. Just sayin'...