faith in action

Mixed emotions, uncomfortable questions

Daniel Viehland just graduated from Wesley Theological Seminary. He also just completed an internship with Church and Society. He reflects on what he's learned.

Many things about D.C. feel strange to me, particularly working on Capitol Hill.

My bike ride to Church and Society the other day brought me under the Kennedy Center, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, up the National Mall, past the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian museums, until the last climb up the hill to the Capitol. I am still struck by a sense of unrealness as I pass by all these iconic places in the course of my daily life.

There are other strange moments, too.

The constant presence of protesters, for example. “The Presidential Motorcade kept us stuck at a stoplight” is an entirely valid excuse for being late to class. Having to move my car because the streets are about to close for the State of the Union. These things aren’t just odd; they are often funny, amusing, or at least interesting.

One thing I am less excited about is a new awareness of danger and the possibility of violence. I think a lot of people feel it in these times of mass shootings and terror attacks, but it hits home living in DC and working on the Hill.

Living in Missoula, Montana, I rarely worried about it. Mass violence seemed like something that happened somewhere else; that my friends and I were safe and secure in our peaceful mountain town. That isn’t true in D.C.

When I worry about North Korea’s nuclear program, it becomes less of an abstract concern and more of a reason to come up with a detailed plan for what I will do if the dreaded alert pops up on my phone. When I board the Metro, or attend rallies in front of the White House, or walk around public spaces, I often find myself mentally planning out how I would handle various scenarios. I don’t let it change my life, but I do think out “what if…” In Montana, this would feel like paranoia. In the nation’s capital, it feels like appropriate caution.

Adding to the strangeness is the fact that Capitol Hill is probably one of the most secure places on earth. There are highly-trained men and women with M-16s and body armor standing less than a minute walk from the Methodist Building. Other security personnel are visible on every corner. This level of security is something to get used to, too. It’s both a reminder of the possibility of danger and also the genuine chance that the police might use deadly force. This also stirs up mixed emotions and uncomfortable questions.

Living in D.C. can make things murkier, and point to the need for further contemplation and thought. Seminary does that as well.

I suppose the best I can do is: do the best I can, where I can; continue to pray; and place my hope in a day when swords will be pounded into plowshares, lions and lambs will lay down together, and all humanity can look hopefully forward.