This started as a Facebook post, but it kept going and going. So now it’s a blog post on a blog I haven’t touched in over a year. Don’t think this means I’ll touch it again after this trip. 🙂 This sounds sort of strange, but I really don’t like writing much. Anyway…
My (not so) quick run down on my day in DC, a trip I’m on in order to go to the National Prayer Breakfast tomorrow morning as the guest of my congresswoman, Rep. Lauren Underwood:
I love this city. We didn’t live in Maryland long when I was little, but long enough that I have memories of field trips with day care and school as well as trips to the Smithsonian with my parents. My after my mom and (step) dad moved us to FL when I was 7, my father lived in NOVA most of the rest of my childhood and college years. (He went to Germany for 4-5 years in the middle.) In college (William & Mary) we would come up occasionally for shows or games or site-seeing, but not a ton. A lot of my college friends, however, landed here after graduation, and I did a church internship in the Maryland suburbs in 2001. I was in the city a bunch that trip. Anyway, I’m by no means a native, but I impressed myself getting around almost completely without a map today, including some Metro use. I’ll take it. All of that is to say, I really like Washington, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to be here.
I went straight from the airport to the Washington Hilton to pick up my ticket for the breakfast tomorrow. I was in my travel/“day off” clothes – jeans, sweater (cute sweater), new lavender coat, and sneakers. Hey, I know people used to dress up to fly, but I’ve been having some back problems. The sneakers were a necessity. I digress. Again. The drop off circle at the hotel was packed bumper to bumper and the lobby was stuffed full of people. Boy oh boy was I underdressed even for ticket pick up! Eek!
I know I’m going to overuse this word, but it was fascinating. People from all over the world. All over. I’ll be honest though, I only overheard one other person introducing himself from somewhere other than the south (Michigan, FYI). That’s by no means a scientific sample, but it is what it is.
I have heard people describe a first-timer’s experience at the PC(USA) General Assembly as a week at a family reunion for someone else’s family. In other words, you know everyone else seems to know each other, but you don’t necessarily feel like you know you for. (Don’t let that scare you off from attending a GA. By the end of the week it doesn’t feel so foreign and you come to know the family, too.) It turns out, this is a not just a breakfast but a conference with all sorts of meetings and speakers and fellowship opportunities for attendees who want to pay for those. People were finding each other from past years and greeting one another with enthusiastic hugs and run downs on how all their people were. (Again, lots of Southerners. Southerners, in my experience, always want to check in on each other’s people. Not a judgement, just an observation.)
Since I’ve become more of a regular in my national church circles it’s not too often that I feel like the newcomer in a church-ish gathering. It’s not often that I don’t know where the registration table is or that I need to check my bag at the desk while I’m getting registered even though I’m not staying at that hotel. (Apparently I got there right as some security procedures were tightening up from what was planned.) That’s a different feeling for me, and I like to know things, so I think I felt sort of hyper-aware. I was taking a lot in. Trying to remember everything I saw or heard, paying very close attention to the “vibes” of the event and my feeling in it. (And seriously, this was literally just the ticket pick-up line.)
I didn’t buy tickets to any other things. I don’t know how that works, to be honest. Rep. Underwood’s office told me they would find out more information if I was interested, but what they knew was $550 would get me lunch and dinner, too, as well as admittance to other speakers and panels. I didn’t ask for more information. That’s too rich for my (church’s) blood. Now that I’ve googled around I actually can’t find any information about how one would register if one wanted to (and approximately 3,500 ones wanted to). I have found all sorts of tickets that can be bought to speakers/panels that are related to this event, but I don’t know if they are officially through the event. I don’t get it. I’m OK with that.
Here’s the thing, the National Prayer Breakfast has some questionable history and present reality. (That’s probably a mild way to put it.) As I said in a Facebook comment when I was getting some (hopefully) well-meaning pushback from a few folks I’m connected with on Facebook – any time the words “National” and “Prayer” appear in an event in this country we should tread lightly. This event is no different and could well be a prime example of why we need to tread lightly.
This is the event organized by the group featured in a recent Netflix series called “The Family.” There are plenty of news stories and blog posts and think pieces about this event; I’ll let you read them yourself if you’d like to. I did my own research in considering whether or not I would accept the invitation and in preparing to come. And God knows, plenty of folk who know me on the internet made sure I knew their experiences and opinions, some in nicer ways than others. The particular element of the event and the organization that plans it that raises some hairs on my neck is the element of power. There was an aura of power running through the rooms I was in today even just getting registered. It felt… different to me.
That’s not very descriptive, I know, but it’s all I’ve got right now. The mixture of diplomats and government officials with Christian religious leaders and regular (as in routine) attendees to the family reunion and Jewish leaders (but not that I could see or hear other religious representatives, there could be others that I didn’t see yet) just felt very different from how I usually experience church. There was more mingling with secular, governmental power than I’m used to. And I’m not 100% against that. I am a part of a Christian tradition and hold to a theology that basically says there is no such thing as a sacred-secular divide. There is nothing outside the reach of God’s care, including civil governments. There was just a feeling of eagerness to be close to power, and I’m paying attention to that feeling as I go into the breakfast tomorrow.
So! That was all just picking up my breakfast ticket!
From there I went and found a place to have lunch (delicious creamy potato soup), checked into my hotel, and then hopped on the Metro to see what might be happen in Washington DC today. (Spoiler alert: The Senate voted to acquit the President of the impeachment charges.)
I did a big circle around the Capitol building. There was a heavy police presence as the Senate was getting ready to vote as I arrived. A small group of protesters had gathered already and I watched them from a distance while listening to the live feed of the roll call votes on my phone. It was some fascinating people watching. (There’s that word again.) Some very emotional protesters. Some folk just trying to walk to their cars at the end of the work day. A few Trump supporters counter-protesting. Lots of groups of high schoolers on field trips.
And, thankfully, just one person who I overheard ask, “What’s going on today? What are these people here protesting about?” I about pulled her aside to give her a current events lesson, but thankfully one of the teachers of the high schoolers she was chaperoning took care of it for me. Eek. People. I know the news isn’t always fun to watch, but we have. got. to. be. informed. People’s lives depend on it. Really.
Anyway, I left when a group of younger, white men mocked the protesters and ran around in front of them shouting, “Losers! Losers! Four more years! Four more years!” I was not up for that.
That was the end of most of my day. I took a long walk down the Mall and had fun identifying the museums and monuments before reading their signs just to prove to myself that I still could. (I’m a dork like that.) I cut over to Pennsylvania Ave at the National Archives and walked the rest of the way to White House. I was feeling kind of blah, in my head a bunch.
It’s a weird week to be in this city and love the sites and be interested in the history and the present. It’s a really frustrating time in our country, and while I took a few pictures and selfies (Don’t judge. I’m traveling alone, and I like a decent selfie angle) like one might do when they are tourist-ing, it felt really strange taking smiling pictures with the Capitol or White House or National Archives in the background while all of this is going on. And if that felt weird, I can only imagine how tomorrow morning is going to feel.
I’m deeply honored to be the guest of Rep. Underwood. I have a great deal of respect for her and the job she is trying to do representing our divided district. And while this event is not one I would typically make room for on my calendar to just attend on my own, I am looking forward to sitting with a woman who is doing a very difficult job, who is navigating new systems and old systems, and who asked me to sit at this with her. I have no idea what Rep. Underwood thinks of the breakfast we’re attending tomorrow. We haven’t talked about it, the group the plans it, the purposes of it, the advertised or unadvertised purposes.
But I remember the early days of my (much less public) career when I had to figure out what rooms I needed to be in because they fed me, what rooms I needed to be in because I would be left out of important decisions if I wasn’t in them, what rooms I needed to be in to build working relationships outside of my natural circle of colleagues, and what rooms I needed to be in specifically because the others there didn’t want me in them. I remember the people who sat with me in those rooms, even the ones I didn’t know very well. I am grateful that they did.