Pastor Dave Szczepanski was having a “God and Country” presentation in Washington DC. Pastor Haynes and the Carbondale church were getting excited about it; so I floated the idea here in Sparta. I thought it would be 5 guys in my car, but life and schedules weren’t coming together. Pastor Swartz called to see if I could split cost on a van and include three young people from his church. So it would be Joan and I, Tevin and Reiko from our church and Jonathon, Kenny and Hannah from the Radcliff church.
Tevin began the search for a campsite as far into the Appalachians that he thought we could make it. He came up with a campsite with showers along the Shenandoah just outside of Luray, which turned out to be a great little town. I checked the time of driving, just over 11 hours, but noticed that the route ran parallel to a stretch of road I have always wanted to travel: Skyline Drive.
We got tents, bags, a cooler and snacks together and took off Thursday morning by 5. We picked up the Kentucky kids at University of Louisville at about 8:45 and continued on. We couldn’t afford the time to make it a site seeing trip so we powered through taking a sandwich break in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.
We were making good time and I was wanting to get there early enough to take the Blue Ridge Parkway drive. We followed 64 to the South entrance of the park. We had a couple of hours of light left. We paid $15 that would allow us in and out over a week or so. We drove a bit over the 35 mph speed limit but we were warned with a wink to watch for bears. The chances of seeing a bear along the well-traveled road pretty unique. The piece of writing that I had read in Smithsonian magazine was repeated in the park brochure. When the drive first opened in the 30’s it was bumper to bumper every weekend. It is a beautiful drive with vistas opening up to the east and to the west overlooking the historic Shenandoah Valley.
We were driving along and sure enough there he was. I say he because he was a big black bear crossing the road right in front of us. We pulled over as he plunged over the side of the road and we took a few seconds to decide to risk our lives to get a closer look. There he was eating berries below us as we all ooed and awwed. We got cameras clicking and I got the best photo and that was just of his head from behind with a prominent ear to make it more than just a black blob. It is posted at church.
We were losing daylight so we got off after driving about 45 miles and hastened for our campsite. We made camp, the office and store were closed, so we set up tents in the dark started cooking some food as the young guys gathered firewood for a fire.
We ate and I thought we were going to all settle down for a good sleep when I realized the 3 guys had a plan. They were going to take the trail to the river using a makeshift torch (a found bamboo pole wrapped in old socks soaked in lighter fluid). I went along carefully winding our way through the darkness of the woods. At the far end we found an uninhabited hobo camp. We started the trip back. We had only one flashlight with us and when the torch went out we were confronted with a picture right out of a movie. The fireflies had lit up the section we were in on both sides of a narrow clearing heading back towards the river. It was a tunnel of light brought to us by these guys. To top it off as you followed the path of their lights it blended into the bright stars above adding to the feeling of being surrounded by light for ever. Tevin would later describe it as romantistic, careful to explain that it couldn’t really be too romantistic since we were all guys.
We got up slow the next morning, enjoyed a milk and cereal breakfast, and left for DC. First stop, coffee in Luray. We found Gathering Grounds. Doing the search to find it I see it has been ranked the best restaurant in Luray. I will only add to others description of the vintage (Laura Michelle Hansston (I am adding her last name for searchers sake) understands the meaning of vintage) which is the double angled ladder attached to rollers at the top and the bottom facing a set of shelves standing about 20 feet tall (it used to be a hardware store). Got our delicious coffee and headed for DC.
We got back up on the Skyway and came out at Front Royal, the gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains that Lee marched his troops thought on his way to Gettysburg. We then headed down the highway towards DC. We decided on a Macdonalds/computer/bathroom break in Manasas. Joan said Macdonalds was to the right, since she has trouble distinguishing left from right being a lefty and have been in this exact spot many times before I went to the left. The next thing I knew we were at the entrance of the Manasas/Bull Run Battlefield National Park. No stopping us now. The kids all launched into the museum while I took a call from Audra Lea for the next hour. I saw some kids wandering around when I was done, some still in the museum (having managed to go in without paying the $3, “no problem” said the clerk). I would have loved to have taken more time, I settled for a nice walk through their bookstore. They had a great collection of books. I would love to walk the battlefield in the future and compare notes to a previous blog article on the battle. We resume the final leg to DC.
My internet research led me to coupons for parking on K Street. Before parking we circle the mall and the capitol building with be specifically looking for the Eastern Market, DC’s farmer’s market. Then we parked. I got to explain about the use of the phrase K Street to describe the lobbyists who write our laws these days. The car is parked for us and we are off. First stop: The White House. Anti-war demo going on, really lame with one Muslim doing his thing. Joan of Arc sallies forth. We get some pictures of the kids in front of the White House and move to the other side. Mary, Tevin’s mother, would scream when I showed her the picture of Tevin standing in front of the White House. Only one with Obama could have been better for her. It is at the south end that I see something that has always impressed me: Michelle’s garden. It looks good, not as good as mine, but looks real good. Say what you will but I think her championing gardening, eating right and health is good for the nation and a worthy project for a First Lady. We then move onto the Washington Mall each moving at their own speed. We pass through the WWII memorial, the Viet Nam memorial and the Lincoln memorial.
It seems that the Lincoln had the most impact upon us on this day. I made the kids all take the time to read his second inaugural address which was across from the Gettysburg Address. You can feel his pain as the war goes on and the blood keeps flowing. He sees it as a judgement of God upon our nation. I am explaining to the kids about the founding of the Southern Baptists and how God gave our nation through its most influential denomination a chance to avoid the bloodshed. The issue was that the northerners had added a rule that missionaries could not own slaves (picture the missionary following Livingston in Africa with his own personal slaves in tow). The southerners took issue and instead of taking opportunity to repent and lead the South out of slavery, they chose to form their own denomination keeping their slaves. I was overheard by a couple who joined in the listening and then carried on the conversation talking about the importance of Christian education and the hope for the future of the nation.
Something I just learned about Lincoln from Wallbuilders: John Quincy Adams was the only President to move from the executive office to the House of Representatives. Surely a sign of humility. He had a purpose: to end slavery. Every Monday he would offer up his stacks of bills to be dealt with by the congress. They made rules that you could offer up any petition except a petition concerning slavery, just to stop him. The years rolled on and it would be easy to understand if he became cynical but he believed “Its to me to do my duty and leave the results with the Lord”. Eventually he would lead the Congress to pass anti-slavery legislation but it couldn’t make it through the Senate. Here is the point. He would die on the house floor in 1848 mid way though his last two year term. In that year before his death he took in a freshman house member from Illinois. He poured his heart into the young man. They were so linked together that he would be a pall bearer at Adams’ funeral. The man was Abraham Lincoln and he would never return to Washington as an elected official until 1860 when he won the Presidency.
This is where we split up. Tevin, Hannah and Reiko wanted to check out the National Archives and the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Joan and I wanted to test out the bikes we had read about. Kenny and Jonathon were into the bikes so we went our different ways. The company was Capital Bikeshare. You pay 7 dollars for a day membership. I didn’t read the instructions right, but you are charged the 7 dollars for the day membership and you are also charged for usage fees if you keep the bike longer than 30 minutes. The idea is to take the bike from location to location within a half an hour and then the charge will only be 7 dollars. We didn’t quite do this and when I discovered the error they happily refunded me half the extra fees. Saying this for anyone else who might try using the bikes, because this is a common mistake. It’s a long walk, but the bikes were a breath of fresh air for all of us. We continued onto the Jefferson Memorial and drove my the Washington Memorial as we made our way past the Smithsonian’s making our way to the Capitol building. There a guard let us know that the Army band would be playing there for free that night at 8. We made our way through a charming neighborhood Southeast of the capitol building looking for Eastern Market. We found it and turned the bikes in a Bikeshare station. We walked the inside of the market, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables with the outside being filled with farmers tomorrow morning. We ran into Cat in the Hat who directed us to a restaurant with cheap prices, he must be doing even better than the wad of bills he was counting. We tried a few places, great prices for a couple on a date, not for some roadsters looking for the cheap deal. We tried a taco place I had noticed when we had cruised earlier…it turns out to be a little Mexican hole in the wall visited by Guy Fieri from the show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives: Tortilla Cafe. Had a great, inexpensive meal with all of the pop we could drink which was more than usual. We got fresh bikes and continued cruising around until our rendezvous with the foot soldiers at 7. We took time to really look at the sculptures surrounding Grant in front of the Capitol building, wow. We met them and made plans to meet up in front of the capitol building for the concert.
We sat behind the band, not realizing how easy it would be to park the bikes and reclaim them after the concert. Reiko sat on the Capitol steps looking down upon the band as they played. They are called “Pershing’s Own” and they are as professional as they could be. It sounds like the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine bands borrow from each other. For each musician this is their tour of duty. Reiko and Tevin would talk to the woman who sang “The Alto’s Lament” and got a good word for the “God and Country Presentation” the next day. We left the three of them there finishing the concert, Hannah would be meeting with the Carbondale folks sleeping in their hotel room while the rest of us would make the trip back to Luray. Driving the bikes through the DC social scene was quite the experience. You can feel the wealth and power as it acts as a nectar to the DC players. Turned the bikes in and got the van, drove back finding Tevin and Reiko sitting at a statue in a circle in front of the Capitol building. I made the mistake of taking the direct (winding) route over the Blue Ridge Mountains instead of going back through Front Royal. It was a longer drive than was necessary but we all got to sleep around 12 that night. The campground that had been empty was now filled with partiers from the DC area. It would be a long night.
The next day we woke up making our way to the 8:00 opening of Gathering Grounds where Tevin joined Joan and I for a cup for the road. We made our way back into DC. I dropped everyone off at John Marshall Park off of Pennsylvania Ave. and went back and found a $7 a day parking spot off of K street. Found the Bikeshare station close by, my membership was still good, made it back to the park in less than half an hour and took in the presentation of God and Country.
God and Country stirs up my memories of seeing the presentation in Prescott. The first time I ever saw it was one month after the death of my father, a 30 year Marine. I had made a special trip from Zambia in between my furloughs just to spend time with him. He would pass away before my next furlough and I made a second trip back for the funeral. My Mom did a great job honoring my father in a service in the town of Yerrington Nevada. His medals were on display. The Catholic priest did a great job actually preaching about the rapture. I was able to say a few words. They played taps and my Mom was able to share messages she had received from all over the world including one from a general in Iraq who had been one of my Dad’s junior officers. I went home after the funeral only to return to the states a month later on furlough for conference in Prescott. I came up with Pastor Robinson for the “God and Country” presentation that the Prescott Potter’s House Church puts on in the courtyard of downtown Prescott every 4th of July. I probably need to add something to that statement, because it is really an intense statement. Pastor Mitchell has been opposed by the city of Prescott in almost every evangelistic endeavor he has tried. After 30 years of fighting him the fight is over and God’s man is the winner. The town of Prescott gives Pastor Mitchell the most valuable piece of real estate in Prescott on the busiest day of the year. The parade ends and thousands pour into the courtyard where booths are set up and right there in the middle facing the old courthouse with people filling the steps and every available inch around “God and Country” is presented. Every year the town of Prescott gets letters thanking them for putting on the production. It is that moving. John McCain almost gave his blessing on it, but he smelled church and retreated before the threat of a gospel message connected with his military duty. For me that day I experienced it through the prism of my father’s life and committment to duty. I came away sharing the honor they bestowed upon all of those who have served their country in the wars we have fought and more importantly sensing the honor they gave my father who had just passed away. It was something that I can still feel as I write this years later. I saw it while an evangelist in Prescott and it was always powerful. The problem today is we have the country part but we omit the God part. This is the root of all of the problems that America faces.
So this first time production came off very well. Whereas Prescott is a compact presentation that is jammed full of history and pageantry followed by a short gospel message given by unassuming Pastor Mitchell wearing a baseball cap to a totally silent audience at the close of the presentation, these folks had a whole day to stretch out the presentation. We would have to leave at 2 and it was still going on. Next year I am sure they will tighten and shorten it up and show it as many times as are necessary. The other factor is the crowd. Prescott has them right where they want to be. Washington DC is filled with visitors from all over the world, but they are overwhelmed with so much to see. A brochure handed out at the presentation that shows the connection between our Godly heritage and our national heritage. (The ten commandments are posted on the inside of the doors of the supreme court; so that when they are closed the justices are looking at the ten commandments; that’s what they were looking at when they ruled that the ten commandments could not be posted in a courtroom). The idea is that you put something into people’s hands that will give them missing pieces of Godly heritage at the very sites they will be visiting. I believe they are committed to making this a yearly event so I am looking forward to the coming years of “God and Country” in Washington DC.
I left about 1:30 to get a bike and ride back to the van. Picked up everyone about 2 and hit the road. It would be a 13 hour drive back. We had a great group of young people. Not a single complaint, not even one. They enjoyed Washington, camping, eating and they all had nothing but positive things to say about the presentation. It would be a long night ahead of us. It was my treat on the dollar menu at each stop. Kenny would have 3 doubles each Macdonald’s stop, making for a total of 9. It was all fun. Joan and I had our Starbucks and Joan helped me drive (something that use to never happen) coming and going. As we were getting closer to Sparta we hit the thunderstorms. The next morning we had church and Tevin and Reiko gave excellent testimonies making everyone want to go next year.