I am finding this whole immersion experience impossible to summarize so I will note my scattered impressions without asking them to cohere for now.
Even while I’m emotionally engaged in the efforts of our guest speakers and even as I feel moved as we locate the myriad injustices embedded in our system, I feel a resistance in myself to go along with it all. I am disturbed that we characterize our group’s policy positions as “non-partisan”. Is it possible to still retain our prophetic quality, speaking truth to power, while accepting that we are working with only our piece of the truth? Is it conceivable that the sides we are opposing possess the other pieces? I keep reciting to myself, Preferential Option for the Poor, Preferential Option for the Poor…
In one of the downstairs exhibits at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, there was a small sack with a story embroidered on the fabric. It was an account of an enslaved girl who was sold at the age of nine, separated from her family. Her mother gave her this sack with three handfuls of pecans, a dress, and a lock of her hair in it. They never saw each other again. I was profoundly grieved by this raggedy object. My head is still spinning.
On our first full day in DC, I took a picture of the Capitol Building. Somehow, the photo I took made the formidable structure look like a tiered wedding cake with a domed centerpiece on top. On closer inspection, on top of the dome is a figure called the Statue of Freedom, a female figure wearing a military helmet, which was cast by Philip Reid, a slave. This style of irony comprises the base layer of our American myth. What is more, my wedding cake photo revealed to me the degree to which hierarchy, with its distinctly Christian character in Western society, informs how we organize ourselves. It is the scheme by which we order power. We sacralize the thing on top, which in this case is Freedom. The abstract ideal is endlessly admirable and the reality of how the physical statue came into being is endlessly offensive. The tension stirs in me, keeps me awake.
I am so energized by the beauty of the buildings and the trees as I walk to the United Methodist building every morning. Especially the trees—I feel that they are all talking to me, giving me courage. On Monday, I spent most of the afternoon at the National Gallery, sitting and resting in the midst of art.
I am so proud of our group and how amazingly we are working together to keep one another going. The patience and warmth of some among us, even when things suck, I will remember and aspire to forever.