Here in Washington, we do a lot of walking. Each afternoon, many of us walk the 1.5 miles from the Methodist Building, our primary meeting place, to our hotel along Pennsylvania Avenue. The walk takes us past gleaming and historic buildings with facades of marble and granite, leafy green open spaces inhabited by ground squirrels and starlings, enticing museums, and monuments. We are tourists here, but, unlike the families we pass, we are dressed in our best professional clothes. We are here to see how our government works and how we, as faith leaders, can walk the walk of advocates for just and moral policies that serve the common good.
While some of us prefer to take the Metro, for others, the walk through the City is both a joy and a necessity. The walk provides a necessary break between days filled with powerful presentations and meetings, and evenings filled with study and preparation for the next day. Walking has always been an activity that grounds me in my body and invites reflection and prayer. It brings me back to who I am and makes me feel at home on the earth. Sharing the walk with my classmates is a joy because it gives us time to talk, to debrief together about the day’s events, to lighten up, and to laugh. It is a lovely opportunity to get to know each of these beautiful, questing students better and to feel more grounded as a group. Sometimes, we travel in companionable silence that reminds me of what Margaret Fuller said about Ralph Waldo Emerson: “He is a much better companion than formerly, for once he would talk obstinately through the walk, but now we can be silent and see things together.” In my book, being silent and seeing things together is an important mark of a fine friendship.
This week, we have also spent time walking the halls of power in the Rayburn Building, the Dirksen Building, and the Hart Building. Our legislators’ office buildings are beautiful, stately, and well appointed, conveying dignity and authority. In these halls, I am surprised to feel a sense of ownership, in recognition that this is the home of my nation’s elected leaders. But I also feel a sense of discomfort because I am really only a tourist here – I don’t feel at home and can’t see how my interests are represented. That feeling is not assuaged by meeting with politicians and their staff. In these meetings, there is a distance between us that is hard to bridge, even when we students tell our personal stories and make our earnest requests for our lawmakers to act for the common good. I can’t imagine that we will ever be able to “see things together.”
Yet I do have hope that our visit here can make a difference. That hope comes from the many faith-based advocates for social justice that we have met this week. These advocates include Sandra Sorensen, Director of Washington Office of Justice and Witness UCC and Aimee Hong, Seminar Director, General Board of Church and Society UMC, who serve as our primary hosts and guides through the political system. These two experienced and gifted women do the holy work of advocating for the common good every day. They work with grace, devotion, humor, knowledge, patience, and a deep faith that justice will prevail. I also find hope in coalitions of grass roots organizations (like People Improving Communities through Organizing) that come to Washington to show our legislators just how many constituents care deeply about key social justice issues – and VOTE. All of these people are walking the walk, doing the arduous task of working for change.
It doesn’t matter how we get here. The point is that we show up, not just as tourists, but as advocates for the change we want to see in the world. This week, we are showing up, walking together through this city and among our lawmakers, with faith that our presence here will help bring about a more just and equitable country.