“Back To The Old Stomping Grounds” | Blog #32

“Back To The Old Stomping Grounds” | Blog #32

Picture gallery at the bottom of the blog!

For the first time in a long while I had trouble getting to sleep, so I woke up late and had a late start to the day. My plan was to stop by Arlington National Cemetery on the way into DC (more on the why later). Instead, I had a leisurely breakfast and read for an hour and a half before heading out. I’m continuing to enjoy Eugene Peterson’s collection of sermons, As Kingfishers Catch Fire. Yesterday morning I started his section on “Preaching in the Company of Isaiah” and read,

We don’t read many pages into the Prophets before realizing there was nothing easygoing about them. Prophets were not popular figures. They never achieved celebrity status. They were decidedly uncongenial to the temperaments and dispositions of the people with whom they lived. And the centuries have not mellowed them. It’s understandable that we should have a difficult time coming to terms with them. They aren’t particularly sensitive to our feelings. They have very modest, as we would say, ‘relational skills.’ We like leaders, especially religious leaders, who understand our problems (‘come along side us’ is one idiom for it), leaders with a touch of glamour, who look good on posters and television. (p. 116).

He goes on to remind us that the prophets don’t “explain God.” Rather, “they shake us out of old conventional habits of small-mindedness and trivializing god-gossip.” They are such a gift to us because they “set us on our feet in wonder and obedience and worship…and if we insist on understanding them before we live into them, we will never get it (p. 116). 

Driving into the District brought back a whole flood of memories. Seeing fields near National (old-timers don’t call it Reagan) Airport and next to the Lincoln Memorial reminded me where I used to play rugby for American University or the Washington Irish RFC. Crossing the bridge that had been the tragic sight of the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 on January 13, 1982, that brought back a flood of memories of that brutally cold, snowy, wet day that was filled with equal parts horror and honor as Lenny Skutnik dove into the icy waters to save a flight attendant.  Being confronted by the acres of metal fencing around the Capitol and Congressional Buildings that remind me how different life is now than when I was a student here 40 years ago; back in my undergraduate days I could waltz into the Capitol and hang out in one of the Senate ante rooms to overhear Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan share a story about negotiating with the Vietnamese at the Paris Peace Talks or go down to the barber shop in the basement to get my hair cut. Back in those days I rocked a ‘fro and the Capitol Police officer who gave me directions suggested when I get there I should “ask for John.” When I found the barber shop there were 5 barbers lined up in a row the last of whom was and African American fellow. All five looked at me when I walked in. “Let me guess who John is,” I said. Sure enough! He even gave me a pic, and suggested it would be more helpful than a comb or a brush!

So many memories. I drove through Capitol Hill and right past Ben’s office is an old, iconic DC watering hole called the Hawk ‘n’ Dove that I remember frequenting back in the day. Who would have ever guessed that forty years on my son would be working a half block down Pennsylvania Ave?

I found on-street parking a few blocks away near Eastern Market and rang Ben. He agreed to meet me there for lunch. Afterward I walked back to his office at Winning Connections and had the chance to meet his co-workers. Unfortunately, his boss, John Jameson, is out of the country. He needed to get back to work, so I headed on.

I decided to explore a part of the city that was new to me: Navy Yard. Over the years I had passed it while sailing on the Potomac, but the part of the city past Capitol Hill wasn’t one I ever really got to while at AU. But it was a short drive from Eastern Market down 8th Ave. Miraculously I found a great parking spot near the front gate. That’s when the wheels came off! The “front gate” was the ceremonial front gate. Now one must enter by a side gate nearly on the other side of the walled yard, go to the visitor’s center, have a background check run, before being issued a pass to enter, all to visit the Navy Museum inside. All that took the better part of 45 minutes! I was able to sneak out the main gate and ,walk across the street to my car, but it was much more of an ordeal to get in than what I expected or budgeted time for.

The drive across town to the hotel near DuPont Circle was at 3:30 just as rush hour was…well, not rushing. In all my driving it was the first standstill traffic jam I encountered. Still, it wasn’t too bad and I was able to check in for my first multi-night stay since Colorado. 

For dinner I got together with an old American University pal, Mary Beth Theisen. A fellow Pennsylvanian, MB started in banking but then joined the Peace Corps. Over the years she has developed an expertise in doing Private Sector Development in Conflict Affected and Fragile States. What that means is she’s worked in places like Sierra Leone after the Ebola outbreak, Poland and Bulgaria after Communism collapsed, Bosnia after the war, and most recently, Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Sudan. She consults with private development agencies providing micro-financing, which are key building blocks for especially women to rebuild in war-torn or crisis situations. For me, MB is a rockstar. Her compassion combined with no-nonsense, real-world financial practices help make miracles happen in very dark places. She knows the reality of having to dash into “safe rooms” because of the conflict outside, having to travel with security teams for protection, the heartbreak of trying to help Afghani friends leave the country when we pulled out, witnessing the PSTD in the children of friends she has grown to love. And yet, she keeps on caring and offering her expertise to make a better world. One of the gifts of going to AU was coming to know folks like MB who have followed the dream so many of us had when we entered to help make a hard world look a little more like God’s Kingdom come.

Tomorrow, I’ll go to Arlington National Cemetery to visit my old friend, Jack Child.