From Winnipeg I flew to Washington, D.C., to participate in the post-Assembly visitation program, hosted by the ELCA. Ironically, after prophetically and collectively denouncing the growing gap between rich and poor over the previous couple weeks, I enjoyed my first executive-class flight, thanks to a storm in Chicago and a rescheduled flight. That massaging lounge chair sure was a treat. Perhaps I'll go with the globalizers after all :-).
In Washington we had a larger and more diverse group of visitors, from Namibia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Indonesia, Slovakia, Austria, Italy, Canada… Here the focus was on Christian advocacy (lobbying). We met with a varity of ELCA, ecumenical and other non-governmental organsations dedicated to various aspects of this ministry, such as peace, trade, hunger and health.
In spite of the expertise, experience, passion and dedication of these advocates, their government still does not pay them adequate attention, apart from moderate advances and successes, steamrolling ahead with it's own "God-ordained" way. Theirs' is truly the life of a prophet, passionately embracing the vision of the reign of God, proclaiming it tirelessly in spite of the intransigence of the recipients. Leading the devotional on the "health" day, it was impacting to sing the testimonies of two Salvadorans who had died of AIDS—Suyapa, a teenage sex-worker, and Ricardo, a gang-member—in a congressional office just metres (oops, yards) from the Capitol of the United States of America.
The benefit of reflecting on this ministry of advocacy as a multicultural group was that we could remind each other of the great differences in contexts and realities, and of the great variety in appropriate ways to address governments and their policies—grass-roots activism, protest marches, cultural events, vigils, boycotts, letter-writing, etc., etc. There are no experts. We are all students, all disciples.
My last five days in Washington I was on my own, and didn't go more than walking distance from my host's home (Phil and Mavis Anderson, friends and colleagues from the 80s in El Salvador), even with a bike ready for me in the basement. The walking included two one-hour embassy visits, the zoo, and the Sojourners centre and area, though most of the sightseeing was even closer, within half an hour's walk.
The Salvadoran visit was with two embassy officials who told me about their government's deep concern for the street-gang kids and all that is being done for them. Since then, which was just when the get-tough "anti-gang law" had been passed, over 2,500 of these gang members have been arrested and jailed, contrary to all human rights conventions (El Salvador is considering withdrawing its signatory status from some of these, since they cramp its more punitive style). Many calls to the government by churches and NGO's over the past several years, to work together to offer healthier alternatives, have been ignored.
Even in Washington, D.C., Latino gang violence and murders (including the Salvadoran "Mara Salvatrucha", by whom I am most pleasantly surrounded once again at Apanteos prison) had become the #1 news item over the time I was there. I took a walk through the Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan neighbourhoods where this was happening, which is also where the Sojourners office is located—much more elegant than the gang neighbourhoods of El Salvador, but becoming just as tragic.
The Canadian Embassy visit was about Canada-US relations, mostly trade. My gracious host, with 25 years of experience at this embassy, knew little about visa decisions, but assumed that the LWF Assembly denials were due to late applications. He gave me a full tour around the entire embassy, including a complete explanation of all the art and architecture, which are quite impressive. The panoramic view from the large roof-deck takes in the sweep of all the most famous Washington landmarks. The US Capitol is just two blocks away. Evidently Canada is the favoured friend of the Empire on its southern border.
On Sunday morning I opted for Imani Temple Cathedral (Roman Catholic) over Reformation Lutheran (ELCA), having overdosed on Lutherans for more than a month already. I've never felt so surrounded by, even filled with, spirit—African American and Holy. They were most welcoming, at least when they touched down. It didn't seem to matter that I was the only (the first?) white face in the crowd.
The choir anthem alone lasted for 25 heavenly minutes. Like one of those trick party candles, it kept bursting back into flame. It took 5 minutes to extinguish it, and another 5 to re-extinguish it. For both the director and the singers, and even for some in the congregation, it was an all-body and all-soul workout. One teenage singer, after wailing and beating his head on the wall through one movement, had to take a 5-minute break before he could return and resume singing. Musically, it sounded wonderful, very harmonious and rhythmic.
Liturgically, too, the worship was dramatic. The portly preacher prostrated herself fully in front of the altar when entering the sanctuary. I think this was the first time I'd heard the Words of Institution proclaimed to a jungle-like drum beat (pounded out by a 5-year-old boy). The LWF Assembly, with all its wonderful and diverse worship experiences, couldn't compete with my Washington neighbourhood church! The whole experience lasted 2-1/2 hours. Perhaps ELCIC choirs and worship leaders should try a dose of this style and spirit, to liven up Canadian Lutheranism—though I'm sure it would seem rather contrived! Roaming this colourful and active black neighbourhood was also most entertaining.
I spent much of several days in one after another of the 13 galleries and museums of the Smithsonian Institution, all within a 1/2-hour walk of Phil and Mavis' place. They are all free-of-charge, and most accessible. They had far too much fascinating and educational detail to absorb—cultural, historical and scientific. I also enjoyed a tour of the US Capitol, including the Congressional Hall and the old Supreme Court. With the post-LWF Assembly delegation, we had toured some of the presidential and war monuments (I visited more on my own afterwards), plus the National Episcopal Cathedral (where Emperor George is occasionally transfigured into Preacher George) and the Library of Congress, all most impressive and monumental. Of course the whole city is most monumental.
My sense was the same as what I remember when visiting other imperial capitals—Athens, Rome, Madrid. A nation does not attain this level of majesty and opulence without an empire to exploit and plunder. While it was intriguing to get a sense of "reality" from the heart of the Empire, it was also a relief to return to its exploited fringes—the land of "The Saviour", El Salvador.
-- Brian Rude
San Salvador, El Salvador