Under Construction

IMG_1961When I traveled to Washington DC recently, the expected grandeur of the U.S. Capitol building was marred. Scaffolding shrouded the dome, and plastic sheeting covered portions of the façade. A companion expressed her disappointment. “So much for the photo op.”

I was superbly glad for this glimpse of this symbol of our nation.

In the preceding days I had come face to face with injustices being committed in my name (and yours) through the enforcement powers invested in our government: The over-incarceration of our fellow human beings, at rates that far exceed most countries. Mandatory sentencing that falls unduly on persons of color, effectively making our criminal justice system the vehicle of what some have called a New Jim Crow. Detention of immigrants and their families, driven by quotas that benefit private prisons operating for profit. An inadequate response to human trafficking, which is happening not just in distant countries but right where we are.

That sight of our capitol building under construction spoke to me of a nation that isn’t done yet, a system that is still being built, needing restoration, renewal, new life.  I’m glad for that.  I pray that it’s true.

Indeed, the pics we snap of our churches, our businesses, our institutions—even of ourselves!—would be more real, more genuine, if the scaffolding were made visible. It’s always there, isn’t it?  Or it should be. The post-Reformation church has understood itself to be reformed, and always reforming.  The minute we think we’re done:  that’s the minute we’re in trouble.  We look out, always, through wreaths of scaffolding, with construction always in process.

If it were more obvious that we, and all these things, are under construction, perhaps we would be more patient with—and more resolute about—what isn’t done yet.

Farmer wave

I grew up with the farmer wave. It’s what you do when you cross paths with someone on a gravel road. It’s the barest flick of a finger or two. An acknowledgment. “I see you.”

Out in the world, no one waves. Traveling to Washington DC last week, I was reminded of the hiddenness we share when we are many. In our profusion, each is a stranger. Why notice one another? Walk as if you’re alone, eyes down—and even better if your earbuds show. Ooze self-sufficiency, disconnectedness, disinterest.

My country neighbors are no less self-reliant. Their outsized trucks won’t be cowed by any storm.  The effortless grace of their raised fingers isn’t about their naiveté; it’s about our perceived connection.  If we both have reason to travel down that same gravel road, then we are unquestionably bound.  We surely know one another, or our parents did, or there’s something that links us, which we would discover if only we paused to talk. The very act of sharing this gravel road belies the possibility that we are mere strangers. Your answering wave confirms that.

This simple custom makes me rethink the separateness of those I meet beyond my adjacent country roads. Those men and women on the sidewalk in Washington, were they not linked inextricably to me and to one another? precious children of God, neighbors, siblings? The fiction that we are mere strangers limits our vision, our imagination, what is possible in our life together. The outward differences that distinguish us pale against the larger similarity in our genes and in our hearts.

As I share the road with others, in whatever metropolis or village, I long for the energy and room to see that. I might even test it out, flicking a wave in their direction, or saying “hello” when others are silent. And sometimes their response will confirm what I already know: we are, all of us, more than strangers.