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Foundation of our countries principles

Last week David and I took our kids to visit Washington, D.C., for fall break. In years past our fall break has only been a couple of days, but this year Metro schools gave us a full week. We’d never taken a big trip with just our family of four, so we decided to make use of this fall break to do just that.

We left on Monday morning and got home on Thursday night, so we had to pack a lot into a short amount of time. We saw Arlington Cemetery and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. We visited three Smithsonian Museums. We took tours of the White House, the Capitol and saw the Library of Congress. By night we saw the new memorials to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We ate at Ray’s Hellburger (sorry, but that’s what it’s called) and lunched at Union Station. We stood underneath the sculpture of Lincoln and read the Gettysburg Address. We visited the Archives and saw the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We visited the Spy Museum and took our picture in front of the FBI building. And in between all of this walking and touring and exploring, we worked in a few breaks for the kids. For children who don’t have cable television at home, it seems enough of a vacation just to watch the Cartoon Network in the hotel room.

Out of all of this touring, one of the most moving moments for me came when we toured the Capitol building. At the beginning of the tour, they had us sit in a big theater and watch a video about the beginnings of our democracy and the role of the Congress. The narrator of the film talked about “Congress—where ideas would be civilly debated, differences of opinions would be respected, and a nation would work together for its future.” (That’s my paraphrase.)

I found myself getting all patriotic and emotional. Watching that film and visiting the founding institutions of our democracy made me very grateful for our national history. It reminded me of what our government was designed to be. Sometimes, especially in an election season, it’s easy to get cynical. It seems rare to hear politicians debating civilly, respecting each other’s opinions or working for the good of the whole. But maybe, just maybe, with all of our politicking and self-seeking and partisan rhetoric, our democracy still “works.”

It was good to be reminded of the principles that our country was founded on, even if we don’t always live up to those principles. The experience reminded me a lot of something I went through in seminary. When I arrived at seminary, I had allowed myself to get disillusioned with the church. I had gotten cynical and saw only its flaws and failings.

But then I read the book of Acts. And I took classes on the church’s mission and practice. And I attended a church that was feeding the homeless and reaching out to the lost and the least. Gradually, I remembered that the church is God’s idea. We are the body of Christ. We are not perfect. We are human beings, after all. But we are God’s best hope for the world. We must keep striving to live up to God’s idea. Visiting the Capitol made me want to be a better citizen. Coming to church every Sunday makes me want to be a more faithful disciple. And that’s the most important calling there is!