What do these stones mean to you?
In a few hours Donna and I will return to Seattle, but before heading to the airport I wanted to write a bit about our time in Washington DC. I was out east to do a wedding, but it's hard to spend time in this city without digesting our American heritage and history. Moving from monument to monument, taking in not only the words carved in stone, but observing the families and generations absorbing our national history, reminded me of several truths:
1. There's value in memorial stones. I watch a mom explain to her young son how her grandfather fought in WWII. The marvelous memorial for this war, recently added to our national treasures, offers etchings of various scenes from both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of conflict. These brass works of art tell the story, from the attack on Pearl Harbor, to the landing at Normandy, from the building of planes to the medical and pastoral responsibilities of support teams. Better than words, these etchings provide talking points so that, just as in the day of Joshua, when children ask "what do these stones mean?", parents can offer a ready answer and pass the story down from one generation to another.
I was struck with the importance of story, and reminded that I'm not only part of national story, but part of a long story of God's working in history. In the same way that our nation has done a marvelous job of keeping the story alive and passing it on through stones, we too need to find ways of sharing the story in which we find ourselves, so that children, youth, and adults, can see the grand working of God in history and respond to the invitation to take up the mantle of serving for their generation. These monuments ignited a question in me: How do we, as followers of Christ, create memorial stones? How do we share the story?
2. Words matter. I took dozens of pictures of stones into which the words of Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt and others were carved. (See some of these words and other pictures here) I'm reminded that, while it is through story that we share the "what" of our history, it is through words that we share the "why". The ideals of our nation are memorialized in stone, and it's vital that, as citizens of this land, we become steeped deeply in these ideals, for they ought to govern our values and priorities; they ought to become the basis for our actions. Likewise, as people of faith, it's not enough to share the stories of God's workings in history, and how God has used people. It's vital that we share the words, the "heart of God", the "ideals of God", for without these critical doctrines, the stories float, without mooring, through our souls. At best, they can only offer shallow inspiration; at worst, the stories of God without the heart of God can become the basis for perpetrating horrific crimes on humanity, as is often seen through fundamentalists like Rev. Phelps.
3. Our nation is honest. Perhaps what was most heartening about my visit to DC was the fact that our nation displays not only our high ideals and glorious triumphs, but our failures, our lapses in judgment, and our ethical dilemmas. One museum dispalys not only tokens of heroism and sacrifice, but also the tragedies and ambiguities of Vietnam, and a letter to president Reagan from a soldier refusing a medal of honor because of atrocities committed in Central America at the hands of America. The American Indian museum is open and honest about the great struggles our Native Americans have endured at the hands of our government. That our country openly displays not only our strength, but our weakness, is part of what makes me deeply proud of my country, for it is in humility and honesty that a ruler will be exalted!
4. Cynicism isn't helpful. It's easy for me to become cynical about our American government, and the reasons for that ease could fill a book. I've been reminded this weekend, though, that our collective calling will never lead us upward towards our national potential unless we deeply ponder the ideals of liberty, freedom, accountability, generosity, and hope, on which our country was founded. It's easy to throw stones. It's much harder to offer solutions. But solutions begin with the vision upon which we were founded. And both as the people of God, and the people of America, this is our time - the torch is in our hands.