I awoke early in hopes of securing, via the website, timed entry tickets made available each morning to the African American History Museum, but during an hour of refreshing the webpage I never was able to secure any; someone always beat me to them.
So I enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the inn and chose to spend the morning walking around the monuments and memorials. I thought that encountering the ideals of our republic would ennoble and inspire me.
Albert Einstein's statue is bigger than I realized.
I always cry at the Lincoln Memorial.
I'm always surprised by my grief that he was killed. I cry as I read again the words of the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural. I cry as I watch African American children joyfully getting their pictures taken.
Sebastian is at that age where every time he sees or hears an airplane he gets excited. Watching him I recall my childlike wonder. But I also realized yesterday he not only possesses a wonder, but a naivete. The plans approach National Airport are so close; every time I caught one out of the corner of my eye I was startled. We don't experience planes with wonder anymore but with the possibility of horror.
I decided since I've never walked around the Tidal Basin, I'd do that. It was a very pleasant morning.
At the George Mason Memorial, which honors his role in assuring our rights, philosophy makes a good appearance with books by Cicero, Locke, & Rousseau. He seems like a pleasant fellow.
I had read that the Jefferson Memorial was in bad shape, but I was still surprised. Throughout the day I was struck by the number of turned off fountains, crumbling plazas, algae filled pools, and obnoxious security fences. You can see the rot at the heart of our democracy.
The African American History Museum sure makes statement boldly sitting next to the monuments to slave owners.
My grandfather fought at the Battle of Anzio where he was so severely wounded that for a time they thought he was dead. He spent six months in the hospital recovering. In a recent podcast I shared this story. Ordinary people like he are honored here for the roles they played in defeating tyranny and advancing the cause of liberty.
When I set out in the morning I hoped that encountering the ideals of our republic would be ennobling and reassuring, but the morning had only made me sadder, for we have failed to live up to our ideals.
And all this before I learned that while I was re-reading quotes about sacrificing self-interest for liberty and the common good, the vile occupant of the White House was again acting like petty adolescent bully. David French of the National Review wrote, “It’s a sad symbol of our times that one feels compelled to actually make an argument why the president is wrong here. The pitiful reality is that there are people who feel like the man who sits in the seat once occupied by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan should use his bully pulpit for schoolyard insults and vicious personal attacks.” That’s what has always bothered me about Trump—not him so much, for his is a pathetic, little man, but the millions of people who have voted for him, people who somewhere along the way failed to learn what the moral ideals of our nation are or were willing to risk them for an imagined short term gain.
For lunch I met up with Chris Rempert who was in my youth group in Dallas fifteen years ago. At the time he was a middle school kid. Now he’s spent years in advocacy work for progressive causes
This was my first visit to the National Museum of the American Indian, and I did not expect that I would spend the entire afternoon, but I greatly enjoyed the exhibits and leisurely took my time to read and experience them, particularly the exhibit on Native spirituality and philosophy.
I spent the evening with Christie Platt whom I befriended at Yale in 2014. What a delight to catch up with her and finally meet her husband. Seeing her was one reason I had come to DC ahead of General Synod.
And so this morning I’ll take the train to Baltimore and weekend of colleagues and work on behalf of God’s people.
Mid-day I arrived in Washington, D. C., and I thought of my first visit in 1990 when I was sixteen.
I was traveling with the Akers family; their eldest son Rob was my best friend, even though they had moved to Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Bob, the father and a Pentecostal Holiness pastor, was thrilled to show me the city, knowing my fascination with government, politics, and American history. We stayed in the suburbs and traveled in my metro, so Bob had us stop at Smithsonian station and emerge into the middle of the Mall. I was giddy with excitement. That day I took six rolls of film as we walked all over the city.
1990 was a vastly different era in Washington--far less security for one thing. You visited the White House by getting tickets that morning and then going on a tour. You could wander freely into and around the Capitol. On that trip, when we separated to do different things, I sat in the Senate for three hours watching the debate. Howard Metzenbaum's speaking notes were in such a big font that I could read them from the gallery.
I'm on my way to Baltimore for the United Church of Christ's General Synod. I decided to spend two days in D. C. just wandering around and catching up with friends. None of those were free today, so I had the afternoon and evening to myself. So I dropped the luggage at the Tabard Inn--where I'm staying near many embassies and the HRC national headquarters--ate lunch and had a chat with an Egyptian about the weather in his country and in Nebraska, and then I began walking down Connecticut Avenue. I've got a pretty good map of Washington in my head.
I've only been in D. C. three other times--that tourist trip with the Akers in 1990, with the United States Senate Youth Program in 1992, and part of a day in 2011 with Rob Howard when we saw many of the new monuments and memorials on the Mall after a trip in the region visiting battlefields and before flying out. The reason I have a pretty good map of the city in my head is because as a kid I puzzled over maps. When I was here in '92 with the Senate Youth Program--a group of politics geeks--my fellows were amazed by my knowledge of the city, based not on experience but study of maps and history.
Heading down Connecticut I soon passed the Mayflower Hotel (much in the news a few weeks ago when Jeff Sessions testified before the Senate). I stayed there for a week with the Senate Youth Program, so I have fond memories. That program is funded by the Hearst Foundation and takes two kids from every state each year and brings them for a week of public policy engagement. That week I saw President Bush, heard Colin Powell and Antonin Scalia speak, met with my Senators, had lunch with the ambassador in charge of protocol in the State Department dining rooms, and dined with diplomats from Russia at the Mayflower where we talked about the dramatic changes occurring since the Soviet Union's demise only five weeks before. As I said, fond memories.
I made my way past Saint-Gaudens masterful statue of Admiral Farragut and St. John's Church, which I attended one Sunday morning in 92, fortunately during a service where they explained all the elements of the liturgy, given that as a Southern Baptist I was not familiar.
Then to Lafayette Square. I had enjoyed the Square a quarter century ago and wanted to see it again. Unfortunately much of it was closed off to construction. In 1990 I had enjoyed the statue of Kosciuzko, so admired it again. I believe there is a powerful statement in this park at the heart of our capital which honors the foreigners who helped us win our liberty. Unfortunately the genocidal bastard Andrew Jackson has a statue in the center of the park.
As I approached the White House, I struggled to refrain from crying. The patriotic values that have mattered to me since childhood are under assault by the current, vile occupant.
The last time I stood in this spot, Pennsylvania Avenue was a busy street. Now there is so much more security in this city. It makes it uglier, all the barriers.
As I rounded the Treasury and headed toward the Mall, of course I admired the Washington Monument and then was shocked by how stunning the new National Museum of African American History and Culture is. I was unable to reserve tickets for this trip, though I'm hopeful that I can get day of tickets tomorrow. Knock on wood.
I decided to wile away my time visiting museum I hadn't seen in a quarter century.
In the National Museum of American History I enjoyed seeing artifacts of American life, though overhearing conversations was dispiriting. There was the woman who, looking at the chairs of Archie and Edith Bunker said, "I don't know who they are." Or the child with her family who said "A wedding cake topper" which happened to be one of two men. A parent said, "Don't look at that." Ugh.
I skipped the Natural History Museum, chatted with a cute volunteer from the HRC discussing the Equality Act, and walked through the Sculpture Garden to visit the National Archives. I thought it would be reassuring in this era of national catastrophe. When I last visited you walked up the steps into the front doors and saw the documents in the rotunda. Now, there is an entrance through the basement and lots of 0ther exhibits. When I saw the very long line through turnstiles to see the documents, I decided to pass. I have seen them before, but I did purchase a cute t-shirt for Sebastian in the gift shop.
I wandered through the National Gallery of Art, skipping the exhibits of non-American art and relishing my favourites in the Hudson River School (favourites despite James McClendon's accurate theological critique of them). When I walked through in 1992 with a couple of other Senate Youthers (one from Massachusetts, I remember, but don't remember who the other was), it was my first exhibit to a serious art museum. I was a Philistine. Today I thought of my 17 year old self and giggled.
The cast of Saint-Gaudens' Robert Gould Shaw Memorial confirms in my mind that it is the greatest of American sculptures--and I've never seen the actual thing in person.
I enjoyed the East Building more than I expected, maybe for the first time finding some connection with the paintings of the mid-twentieth century as we too experience the threat of nihilism.
I admired a Helen Frankenthaler painting I've used in my teaching in my Ethics class (as part of an exercise illustrating an Iris Murdoch essay on The Good) and thrilled to encounter Wassily Kandinsky's Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle). I've owned a print of that painting since 1996 and it currently hangs in Sebastian's room. I'd never seen the original. It is marvelous.
I wanted to see the Grant Memorial again, as I had admired it so in 1990, but much of it was blocked off, so I only skirted the reflecting pool adjacent to it. I was thrilled that my memory still worked, as I saw a statue ahead and thought, "I think that's Garfield." It was.
The museums were now closing, so I wandered through the National Garden and then skirted the National Museum of the Native American (I plan to visit it tomorrow, as I've never been) on my way to the L'Enfant Plaza Metro stop. I noticed a community garden across the street from the Air & Space Museum and enjoyed the juxtaposition.
I returned to my room at the inn and cooled off before Skyping with my family. The bookshelf in the room included some odd, old texts, including the American Rose Annual 1949 where I learned of Dr. J. Horace McFarland "Rare are the international figures that can compare in world importance to this great American rosarian." What praise, given that it was the age of Churchill, Gandhi, and Einstein.
After a refreshing shower I had tapas for dinner, including delicious squid. And now I'm sitting in the lounge of the inn drinking rye whiskey and writing.
During an interlude of morning worship the organist played Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Brian McLaren was the preacher and lecturer discussing what people hate about organized religion. It isn't that they want sloppier religion, its that religion is often organized toward the wrong goals. It should be organized toward justice and the love of God and working in cooperation with people of goodwill from all faiths and cultures.
McLaren began by confirming that preaching is becoming more challenging, but the larger social factors making it so, are not our fault. He had a litany, which included the powerful, "It is not your fault that American religion has always had a racist subtext."
He warned us, "The time is way too dangerous to waste a sermon."
He declared "If you are signing the songs of empire, you are on the wrong side." We should be singing about our racial problems, about our responsibilities to the environment. Also praise songs, because "all legitimate praise songs are also protest songs."
If you need permission to be a preacher organizing the church for justice, know that "you were given permission at your baptism."
My favourite practical word he gave, an idea I may work on for next year, is that all churches should organize peace marches on Palm Sunday, which would be a more authentic way of living into the story of Jesus.
In the afternoon Otis Moss III said that if you are doing your job as a preacher, then people will leave the church. That's simply part of the pain of preaching. His lecture was entitled "When the Empire Strikes Back."
The preacher should help people to shift their prism and see things from different perspectives. We may not be able to change everything, but we can at least plant the seeds that may work out in a later generation.
On a practical level he said, "You are creating a sonic mural every time you preach."
After lunch I chose to visit the Alamo for the first time in more than twenty years. I sat in garden on a bench in front of a fountain in the cool shade cast by the spreading branches of the live oaks.
The middle of May once again finds me at the Festival of Homiletics with my friends and colleagues David Breckenridge and Dan DeLeon. This year we are in San Antonio. Here's the event website. We'll join 1,200 other ministers in listening to sermons and lectures on preaching all week!
Last year's event, which I blogged extensively (the first post is here) was focused on Prophetic Preaching with pretty much every presenter pounding home every social justice issue imaginable in the midst of the election. More than once Trump the candidate was denounced last year.
So, I'll be curious how this great preachers grapple with preaching the Age of Trump, an issue I continue to wrestle with. And though the location and theme were picked long before the election, it clearly lends itself to engagement with our national catastrophe.
The Dingle Peninsula possesses a rugged, spare beauty. These are not lush valleys with quaint farms. Instead there are stone buildings on steep hillsides overlooking the ocean and remote islands. At lunch we overheard a woman, an Irish literature teacher telling a friend visiting from another country about the people who had lived on Great Blasket Island, just off the tip of the peninsula, "They didn't teach kids to swim, because better to die immediately than swim for a few hours or days in the rugged ocean and not be discovered."
Halfway or so along the Slea Head Drive, we stopped at a turn out at Clogher Head to enjoy the view. A cloudburst kept us in our cars, but we determined to wait it out, as all day the rains, even when heavy, had been short-lived. We lay back in our seat until the rain stopped and then Kelli and I hopped out to take the 15 minute walk through the mud up to the rocky point. The wind-beaten rocks were covered with flowering plants, many still in bloom in mid-October, leaving me to wonder how lovely they must have been even a few weeks before. The view from the point was one of the most beautiful of the trip--cliffs and island and villages and ocean and hills and farms. And yet . . .
To farm the rough land the Irish had to remove the rocks, which they used to create the walls of the fields. Then they had carried seaweed up onto the land to let it decompose and create farmable topsoil. Sitting there I couldn't imagine the work required, but you can see the evidence in the line where green field gives way to rocky, brown hillside.
But from this particular spot you can see the remains of fields that are once again brown and not green. Walled fields that aren't farmed anymore. The guidebook said those fields were last planted during the potato famine and never again, as the population declined so precipitously that the people living there, pushed to the remote barren edge of their own island by the colonizers, never recovered sufficiently to require them to plant the highest fields.
So, here in this place of beauty, stark reminders of ethnic cleansing.
As we left our beloved Doolin, we headed south along the Wild Atlantic Way, the road that parallels the western coast of Ireland with often stunning views of the sea. Our first destination was Loop Head, encouraged by Sean the owner of our Doolin B&B. A lighthouse adorns the head (or what we would call a point), and Mom was eager to visit a lighthouse.
South of Lahinch we entered the small town of Quilty. Our cabbie a few days before had suggested visiting the church there, dedicated to the victims of a shipwreck. The region draws attention to shipwrecks, particularly those of the Spanish Armada along its shores.
As we parked to enter the church, the cold wind blew off the ocean. The small sanctuary dedicated to Mary, Star of the Sea was decorated with simple, but poignant stained glass.
We continued our drive along this peninsula jutting out into the north Atlantic, with the landscape becoming increasing more spare and the villages taking on a more remote feeling. However, there was a Trump International golf course.
As we neared Loop Head a sign directed us to another scenic spot, the Bridges of Ross. We stopped in the car park and watched massive waves pounding the dark, jagged rocks.
We pulled up to the lighthouse only to learn that it was unexpectedly closed. We weren't the only potential visitors to be disappointed, as cars continued to pull in, empty their passengers who took time to wrap up in coats and scarves before walking to the gate, only to walk disappointingly back to their cars. However, Kelli and I decided to look around.
The point sits atop tall cliffs, a barren point surrounded by the cold, violent ocean. I stood a while alone on this almost westernmost point of Europe, listening to the waves and the wind.
From Loop Head we drove along the Shannon River estuary to the ferry, a twenty-minute passage across the wide river, passing from County Clare into County Kerry, where the landscape changed dramatically to a multitude of rich greens and quaint cottages adorning picturesque farms. We drove to Tralee for lunch, walking through their rose garden.
And then we drove again along the Wild Atlantic Way as we entered the Dingle Peninsula. We elected not to take the narrow and winding Connor Pass in the slowing fading light (my mom and sister both have histories of motion sickness). Early evening we arrived in Dingle, in time for only a little browsing and shopping, as the stores were closing. The next day we'd see more of the wild Atlantic as we drove round the Dingle Peninsula.
Enriched, but tired, from our hike along the coast to the Cliffs, we rested and refreshed at our B&B before heading out to Gus O'Connor's Pub for dinner, libations, and live music. Our B&B owner, Sean was a rich and delightful source of information and stories. I asked what I should eat and he suggested two things--the mussels, because they were in their best season, and the beef, because beef from Western Ireland is the best in the world. Saturday night I at the mussels and Sunday the steak. Neither disappointed.
Doolin was our favourite stop of the trip, largely because of the pub, which was just a short walk from our B&B. Each night we got a front row seat for the live music, something Mom was really looking forward to. We chatted with other customers and enjoyed the people watching. One night a young woman handed my sister a picture she had drawn of her. I enjoyed trying local whiskeys.
Sunday we had planned as a rest day. Fortuitously, this was the only day of our trip with continuously bad weather. Throughout the morning and midday the skies were overcast and the rain came and went. After a slow start and long breakfast, we decided to drive around to some of the nearby towns and villages and do some sweater shopping.
Near the Cliffs of Moher, we stopped at the Well of St. Brigit, where the grotto was filled with items signifying people's prayers, and the trees were covered in ribbons.
In Lahinch we saw people golfing, walking the beach, and surfing, despite the weather.
Late in the afternoon we returned to Doolin just as a real Atlantic storm came ashore. We drove down to the pier and watched the waves pounding the rocks and saw the last ferry from the Aran Islands tossing about like a toy boat. That night the winds howled, whistling through the house. The next morning, I lingered outside, enjoying the cloud formations over the hills.
Four pubs, a few sweater and souvenir shops, and a handful of beds and breakfast are all the buildings that make up the tiny village of Doolin, which didn't even appear on all the maps of Ireland we saw. The draw is that she sits along the Atlantic coast opposite the Aran Islands and a three hour walk (or 15 minute drive) from the Cliffs of Moher. This was our favourite stop on the trip, and coming early in the vacation, colored everything else we experienced.
We descended from the Burren and arrived in Doolin in the early afternoon on Saturday determined to walk the trail along the coast to the cliffs. A marvelous afternoon greeted us, with clear blue skies and visibility for miles. Locals told us there are only a handful of days each year like this one.
From the town one walks up a steep street to the entrance to a pasture that begins the official trail. Funny signs warned of the danger of falling off the cliffs. Mom, who doesn't do a lot of hiking, was determined to walk with us, and I'm so proud of her for the four hours of walking, sometimes on difficult trails.
Wild blackberries lined the hedgerows. Cattle and horses grazed in the pastures, some of which we walked through, not just alongside of.
The trail slowly rose, and with every turn there was another panoramic view of the islands, cliffs, the castle tower behind us, the Connemara across the bay. We had dressed for a chilly wind off the ocean, but soon were shedding our layers as the afternoon warmed. We paused often for pictures.
A little stream wound its way through the green grass and then a little trickle as it ran over the rocks near the cliff edge before disappearing below me. Any sound the falling water might have made was drowned out by the crashing surf below. A strange mix of sounds--babbling brook and crashing waves.
The first hour and a half was most pleasant and brought us to our first really stunning view of cliffs, though not yet the famous ones. Then the trail turned and the steep ascents began. We took our time, rested often. But the ascents were not the most difficult part of the trail.
Not far from the final ascent to view the famous cliffs, the trail turned inland, apparently some property owner didn't want the trail over his land? The trail then dead-ended at a cow pasture with a sign saying to walk through the pasture to the other side where the trail would pick up again. The pasture was a muddy, boggy mess and took us a very long time to traverse. At one point we decided to walk around some cows to go further into the pasture, as the ground along the fence was so muddy, when we realized one of the cows was a bull. "That's a bull," Mom said. "Be careful." "Here, let me get between you and the bull," I said. He grazed on, thankfully ignoring us. Only when we finally reached the other side of the pasture, where the trail began again, was there a sign "Beware of Bull."
Soon we were making the final ascent up a steep set of steps. We watched teenagers above us cavorting at the very point of the cliffs. Then the panorama opened up before us. The evening light glowed upon the cliffs. We walked on to the visitor's center. At one point, Kelli slipped and fell, in a spot much less difficult than earlier in the day. A man who helped her up said, "You survived a fall at the Cliffs of Moher."
From the visitor's center we looked along the rest of the trail that led from their to Hag's Head, but we were done, after four hours. At the center, a well-designed building, buried in the side of a hill, the receptionist called for a cab to take us back to Doolin. He admired that Mom had make the hike uphill instead of the other way. He gave us stories about the area and stopped to take our picture.
Kinvara lies on the southeastern shore of Galway Bay. Our second day out from Dublin, after an enjoyable breakfast and plenty of hot tea, we drove along the coast stopping often to admire the beautiful scenery spread out before us. Barren hills rose to our south, marking the beginning of the Burren, while green pastures sloped down to the shore.
In the village of Ballyvaughn we stopped just as the farmer's market was opening up. I grabbed a wedge of one of the local cheeses, garlic and nettles flavored, and purchased a bundle of carrots. The farmer selling the carrots was also selling parsnips that I thought looked wonderfully tasty. Commenting on the appearance of his produce, he responded, "Vegetables from the Burren are the best." I munched on those carrots every day the rest of the trip, each time remarking how tasty they were, so I have no cause to disagree with the carrot farmer of Ballyvaughn.
The Burren is an area of exposed limestone left over from the last glacial age. The glaciers deposited both Mediterranean and Arctic plants on the Burren, and they grow side-by-side. From Ballyvaughn we turned south, into the hills, approaching the Burren proper, but before we reached the rugged hilltops, we stopped at the remains of a ring fort, this one overgrown with grass and trees, such that I felt like I was in a fairy circle. Maybe we were?
Then the road rose up through barren limestone. Atop the hills are some prehistoric ruins, including a prominent passage tomb, the Poulnabrone Dolmen. To reach it you walk across the strange rock formations of clints and grikes. Clints are the surfaces and grikes the fissures.
But the land was not completely barren. Flowers and other plants we abundant. Cattle were grazing throughout the area. Later we were told that beef grazing on the Burren were the best in the world. Having tasted a local steak, I think I agree.
One interesting feature of the trip to Ireland was the abundance of livestock. One saw sheep, cattle, and horses constantly. Trails led through pastures. Animals walked over to fences to exchange a greeting with you. Almost every major scenic view included grazing animals. I realized how little we now see and interact with livestock in the US. Once a drive through the country was filled with sites of animals. An Irishman explained to us that they do not use feedlots and other forms of industrial agriculture, preferring to graze their animals the traditional way, leading to better quality food.
The Burren was a magically strange place and well worth another visit some day. In the village of Kilfenora we admired their Celtic High Crosses in the ruined churchyard and ate a warm and hearty lunch. Kilfenora's bishop is the pope. During the potato famine the town suffered so much that the pope took over the diocese in the intention to try and help the local population. The irony of stuffing ourselves in a city that suffered misery during the famine did not escape us.
Early afternoon, we drove through the resort town of Lisdoonvarna and on to little Doolin, on the coast. From there we had a most spectacular adventure.