Church rising, state falling in Washington

An autumnal sky hung over the Capitol Monday afternoon. It was Yom Kippur, the day to atone, which seemed apt.

Four thousand tourists come to the Capitol every day now, but the place will likely be dark next week.

Gone was the cloud of uncertainty about a pending government shutdown. Most members of Congress dread the prospect. It’s the last thing their voters need in a time of turmoil. The Senate finished its work on funding the government in good time, but House Republican lawmakers are too angry to get homework done.

Meanwhile, everyone knows Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., faces a government shutdown storm coming fast — on Saturday, Sept. 30 — to town.

McCarthy, aware of the political peril to his party, can’t control an anti-government crusade by a faction of hard Right House Republicans. In his words, the group of 20 — scattered from Arizona to South Carolina — want to “burn the whole place down.”

Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Bob Good of Virginia are outspoken “Freedom Caucus” members. The shutdown is their goal.

Naturally, former President Donald Trump eggs the hardliners onto a shutdown like his own 35-day drama. At the same time, he called for the death of his military chief, Mark Milley. Nothing can surprise us anymore.

New to his office, McCarthy’s ego and vanity forbid him to reach out to the House Democratic leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, to work out a bipartisan way out of the House mess.

In a narrowly divided House, 20 votes sway the outcome. So, McCarthy almost has to reach “across the aisle” to keep the lights on in the Capitol and the broad economy.

But, in circular logic, if he relies on Democratic support to keep the federal government open, he’ll lose the speakership. That’s unthinkable.

Sacrificing for the nation’s greater good is just not in McCarthy’s character. He defines the California callow, shallow type — and I’m from California.

McCarthy’s in a desperate state. He left the building alone about 3:15 p.m., no solution in sight and bracing for bruises.

Seldom has the weight of the United States government rested on such a weak spine.

Seeking spiritual repair, I went to higher ground, the Washington National Cathedral, for Evensong. The Capitol and the Cathedral, five miles apart, are in architectural dialogue across the horizon.

Church seemed fresh and renewed next to torn and tattered State. Two new stained-glass windows, “Now and Forever,” were just unveiled and blessed in a joyous celebration.

The vivid artworks honor the struggle for justice by everyday African Americans. At last, there’s room for that river of history in the neo-Gothic cathedral.

What they replaced makes the story more meaningful.

Known as America’s house of worship, open to all, the Cathedral had for decades shamefully housed a “Lost Cause” pair of windows portraying Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, military leaders of the Confederacy.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy gave the windows to the Cathedral in 1953, a complacent time before Rosa Parks and the death of Emmett Till shook the nation’s conscience.

Think of it, from 1953 to 2023: 70 years to banish Lee and Jackson and bring the powerful art of racial healing and justice into the nave.

It should be said that Washington, a Southern city, bears the marks of slavery and segregation. After the 2017 deadly race riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, Cathedral leaders were stunned into an epiphany. The Confederate windows had to go.

Kerry James Marshall, the famed artist, charged $18.65 to echo the year, 1865, enslaved people were (legally) free. He portrayed picket lines, the nonviolent philosophy of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

King, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, preached in the Cathedral days before he died. His presence still filled the place.

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson read from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” King’s belief in the “Beloved Community” echoed.

Langston Hughes’ poem “I Dream a World” was sung.

It took too long, but it’s never too late for the arc of racial justice. People lifted their voices. Civil War president Abraham Lincoln’s statue listened in a corner.

In the Capitol, lifted voices are heard as Republicans fail we the people — again.

Jamie Stiehm, Creators Syndicate, Creators.com.


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