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Power and Its Expressions

06 Sep 2016

We have been here in Washington, DC for about two weeks now and after two prior stays, one in 2013 and another in 1964 (!), I have a few observations about just how big, powerful and even “Messianic” government has become at the federal level, based on what I have seen physically in terms of especially security.  Let’s start with the White House.  This time, I have noticed that the security perimeter has been extended even farther out.  Now you can’t drive on or even walk as close as you could in 2013. And one can’t visit without sending a lengthy form calling for all sorts of information about each visitor, and presentation at the security check (the first of three) of an ID that exactly matches the information you sent.  If even a letter is wrong, the hassle and wait begin.  Now all of this is to protect the president.  We apparently now think of him as virtually a god who lives on Mount Olympus.  His power is obviously seen as extensive in this age, so extensive that he is often seen as a kind of monarch to some.

Compare this with my 1964 visit when we literally (yes, I am using it literally) walked through the open gates and up to the front porch to wait for the next tour guide.  No security checks and short wait times.  Those were the days!  Perhaps if Congress and the courts had not granted so much effective  power to a president, we would still be able to do that.  Oh, and you could see more then too—including the Oval Office.

Congress is at least better.  It is relatively easy to get to the “people’s representatives.”  But maybe that’s because public opinion of Congress is so low, maybe they need more prospective visitors.  I’m joking—partly.

Moving on, the Capitol Police are everywhere within several blocks of the Capitol Building, even in our neighborhood.  I suppose I should be thankful for the extra level of security they add, and I am, but it again, does make me think about how much power we have given to even this lowly-esteemed body—or is it the building.  Oh well.

The Supreme Court Building is also pretty much a fortress, though, like the Capitol, one can get in for a tour pretty easily.  But, it is much more difficult to get in to hear a case.  That requires a long wait in a single line, and no guarantee that even if toy are close to the front, you will get in, as the members of the DC Bar always have first choice on remaining  seats.  That, in the lawyer world trumps lowly members of the West Virginia Bar, as well as ordinary citizens.  If you get in there is another level of security inside.  At least it’s very easy to get out!  I forgot, now people can’t even stand too close to the building while waiting.

There are of course still interesting places to go that don’t have security and don’t require bureaucratic forms and waits and checks.  The restaurants are legion, though the best are populated by lobbyists and, yes, lawyers, the two most fully employed groups here outside of bureaucrats.  The Metro has only minimal security, although that could change.  And what would a city be like without good bookstores?  And cultural amenities—museums, art galleries, archives, musical events, plays, etc., all edifying and most satisfying.  And too, the think tanks are mostly headquartered here, both liberal and conservative –and libertarian.  The choices of lectures and panels to attend is diverse and thoroughly educational.  It is like a sabbatical I that sense, but without the pressure to publish.  Recreational activities are also numerous.  It seems that half the population runs or bikes.  It is interesting how many apparently fit young people I see, including those working in government.  That is good in one sense, but I wonder (in my cynical way of wondering) whether too many of those people just want to look good and don’t care about the benefits of fitness for their work and service to God.

Power is everywhere in this city.  It even manifests itself when one is just trying to run or bike.  That has happened to me twice.  As I was out for a run, suddenly men (in dark suits) began to stop everyone within a half-block of an ordinary looking apartment building.  They stopped cars, buses, runners, bikers, walkers, everyone.  I wondered what might be happening.  What was happening was power.  Out of the back of the building came racing a convoy of black vehicles (all important vehicles here are black except police cars), all having tinted windows.  They turned toward the Capitol about four blocks away and after about a minute, we were allowed to go our way.  Inconvenient, yes.  But again, it showed how power affects even the common person.  It happens so much that radio hosts routinely mention it as one of the costs of living here—frequent and sometimes traffic-snarling convoys by very important people with retinues of dozens.

That brings me to a final point.  Despite the undesirable aspects of DC, I have heard and seen to an extent, that there are many sincere Christians here.  If the churches are any indication, that is true.  Evangelical churches that preach the Gospel can be found of many denominations (plug for our church, Capitol Hill Baptist), including Baptist, conservative Presbyterian and Anglican/Episcopal, and others.  If God wills, perhaps that will bear fruit someday that will lead to many good changes for God’s glory, certainly the most momentous being the souls brought into the Kingdom.