Our second morning began with a lovely breakfast at the hotel and we pulled out just after 8:00am. The first stop of the day was the US Capitol Building. We parked on the front side of the Capitol and then walked up the hill to the back.
From there we walked over to the Supreme Court building and took a photo of the group.
While walking around we noticed that all the flags were at half staff in honor of the Covenant School shooting yesterday. This was a heavy reminder of the tragedy that was in our backyard.
After the group photo at the Supreme Court, we went back to the steps of the Capitol for another group photo in front of the dome. The chaperones and teachers even got into this one.
Next the group got to meet the Senate Chaplain Barry Black. It was nice to hear him speak again after seeing him on our trip four years ago. He this time by focusing on the providence of God in light of the events at Covenant School yesterday.
He compared those of us living as Christians today in our world to Daniel, Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego living in Babylon during the exile. He said that we have to trust God’s providence even when things happen that we do not understand, and emphasized that there must have been something demonic involved in the shooting at Covenant School. He pointed to two passages as a reminder of the spiritual enemy that we face:
Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)
12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)
8Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
He then pointed to Isaiah 54:17 in reminding us that God will still win:
Isaiah 54:17 (ESV)
17no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.”
He talked about how God will use those who are faithful to help in crazy times like these, like He used Daniel in Babylon. He stated forcefully, “God has your back!”
He then transitioned and said he was going to share with us something “top-secret” that would help us “stupid-proof” our lives. He started quoting from James 1:5, “if anyone lacks…” and asked if any student could finish it. Sara was the one who completed the verse:
James 1:5 (ESV)
5If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
He responded that she was the “Valedictorian!” This was the same thing that happened to Kate four years ago on her DC trip. She answered a question for Mr. Black and he told her she would be Valedictorian. Turns out he was right! Anyway, I was very proud of Sara for knowing the answer.
He said that for over 50 years he has asked God to give him wisdom and that he is confident that God will never let him do anything that is “long term stupid” as long as he is faithful to Him.
He concluded by telling the students that they could ask him four questions in honor of the four men in Babylon. Here they are:
- Someone asked how long he has been the senate chaplain. He said that he has been serving for 20 years and that as of July 9 he will be the longest continually serving chaplain in senate history.
- Another asked how long he had served in the military. He said that he had served for 27 years, but had been a pastor before joining.
- The next question was what he did as the Senate Chaplain. He explained that he is a pastor to over 7000 people, and that he spends his days leading prayers, conducting Bible studies, making visits, and many other things.
- Finally someone asked how one becomes a Senate Chaplain. He answered simply, “it takes help from heaven.” He then told his story, which I had heard four years ago. As an eight-year-old boy, his mother was given a vinyl record recording of a sermon by Peter Marshall who was Scottish. Mr. Black said that he listened to that record so many times that he memorized it, and that Peter Marshall was the 57th chaplain of the Senate. Now he is the first African American Senate Chaplain. He then reiterated that only with help from heaven could an African American kid from the inner city of Baltimore grow up to be a Senate Chaplain.
As he was closing, someone requested that he sing Amazing Grace, and it was quite moving.
From there we went to the Capitol visitor center and broke for lunch in the cafeteria after getting through security. I remember the cafeteria being kind of chaotic last time, but this time was much better organized.
After lunch, I took a picture of Sara in front of the replica of the Statue of Freedom that sits atop the Capitol dome. Next the whole group watched a short movie that talked about our national motto, E Pluribus Unim (out of many, one), and provided an overview of the capitol building and our three branch system of government.
Next we split into three smaller groups for a tour of the Capitol building. Our guide was Mary Ellen Bradford who has been doing tours for over 40 years. She first took us to the “Crypt” in center of the building on level one., directly beneath the Rotunda. This room is filled with many columns and has a compass in the middle on the floor.
She started by telling us about the beginnings and design of Washington DC and the evolution of the Capitol building. She explained that DC is a city created for the purpose of being the nation’s capital. It only covers 10 square miles of swampland.
When the original Capitol was completed in 1790, it was 1/3 the size of the current building. This is because the country was much, much smaller. Most of what we call “America” today was controlled by other countries in 1790. Much of the labor for the construction was completed by slaves who were the largest percentage of workers in our nation at the time.
She then mentioned that there is a tomb under the floor of then Crypt that was originally intended for George Washington. However, he died 30 years before the completion of construction, so was buried at Mt. Vernon instead. The tomb remains empty to this day.
In the center of the Crypt is the compass that I mentioned earlier. The original design was for the city to be built in four quadrants, and this compass is the exact spot where the quadrants meet.
Earlier in the day, Liz had explained that understanding which quadrant you are in is a key to successfully navigating Washington. For example, there are two locations with an address of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The one marked NW is the White House. The one marked NE is a McDonalds. BTW, the street numbers start at the Capitol, so 1600 is 16 blocks away.
Next we went upstairs to the Rotunda and walked around. Mary Ellen explained that the current dome is not the original dome. The original one was much smaller and made out of wood. When the Capitol was expanded in the 1850s, they dismantled the original dome and replaced it with one made of cast iron that weighs 9 million lbs. It is 180 feet tall (18 stories).
One of the reasons that it weighs so much is that it is actually a double dome with a staircase in between to the top. The staircase has 367 steps and is not open to the public.
While in the Rotunda, she talked extensively about the painting at the top and the frieze that surrounds the dome. She also talked a lot about the statues on the floor and throughout the building. Every state is allowed two statues and as of 2000, these can now be swapped out. The only criteria for the figure represented is that they must have made a contribution to the nation.
We walked around and looked at the four John Trumbull paintings, which are quite famous. I love seeing the painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in person.
Our final stop was the Hall of Statues that was completed in 1864, and was the original room where the House of Representatives met. Once they outgrew it, a new one was built and this room was converted. It is now filled with statues from the various states along with other donated statues.
On the floor are squares showing where the 9 different members of the House used to sit who later became President (John Quincy Adams actually served after his presidency). Mary Ellen showed us the spot for John Quincy Adams, and then did a demonstration of how the domed ceiling allows one to hear conversations on the other side of the room. This has led to the room being reference as the “Hall of Whispers.”
After saying goodbye to Mary Ellen back at the Visitors Center, we then headed across the street to the Library of Congress. Earlier in the day, Katherine had told us about how the current Library of Congress building was built after the original one was burned in the War of 1812. She told us that this library has the most books and documents of any library in the United States.
There are 570 million copies of books in 470 different translations. Most of the books are under ground. Thomas Jefferson started the collection with 6,000 books from his personal library.
While in the library we explored the main hall and went to the observation point for the Reading Room.
By far the highlight for me was getting to see Thomas Jefferson’s Library that contains the original 6,000 books.
We then took a long walk back down Capitol Hill to the busses in front of the Capitol Building and headed to the Museum of the Bible.
This Museum is amazing and both times I’ve been here I’ve wished we had more time. Our group wanted to start with the “Story of the Bible” and the multimedia presentation of the Old Testament on the third floor.
This section is amazing and does a great job of providing an overview of the Old Testament. I love the beginning where you are in a dark room and the narrator is reading from the creation account in Genesis. When he says “Let there be light!” The room is instantly illuminated with a bright light. From there it weaves from room to room with movies and physical representations of the narrative of scripture. The girls loved this part!
We then watched a short movie about the New Testament before moving up to the fourth floor.
This floor contains “The History of the Bible”, which traces the journey of scripture from the original writings through the many translations we have today. I could easily spend a whole day in here! It was neat to go through this with Sara and see references to many places she and I have been able to visit in Israel like Tel Dan and Qumran. There is no way for me to cover everything that stood out to me on our short visit but here are a few highlights…
This is a third century papyrus manuscript of a section of John 8 with Jesus talking to the Pharisees.
This is a 15th century copy of a Gutenberg Bible containing the text of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
This is a first edition of the King James Bible from 1611. Looking at these early copies provides a reminder of just how many changes have been made to the KJV from then until now. The language is quite different.
After the museum we boarded the busses and headed for the Marine Corp Memorial.
At the site, Katherine told us the story of the picture taken at Iwo Jima which inspired the monument. She also explained that the memorial is meant to represent any marine who has last their life protecting our country from November 5, 1775 until now.
Dinner was next at Primo Family Restaurant where we had pizza, pasta, chicken fingers, and french fries. I sat with three other chaperones and we had a lovely conversation.
Next we headed to the Pentagon Memorial that commemorates the lives lost from the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11.
After walking through a long tunnel and across the Pentagon parking lot, we came to the memorial. Liz and Katherine took turns talking about their experiences on 9/11 and explaining the meanings of the symbols at the site.
They explained that the benches represent the individual lives lost arranged in age order from the front to the back of the site. The ages ranged from 3 to 71. The names of the victims are written on the ends of the benches. The ones facing the Pentagon represent those who were in the building and those facing the street represent those in the plane. The benches are angled in the direction the plane hit the Pentagon and their are lines of bricks pointing in the same direction.
After hearing the explanations, we had some time to walk around the memorial. Laura and I took turns talking to our group about our experiences around 9/11 and then Sara and I had a few minutes to walk around together.
This is a wonderfully designed memorial but is quite heavy when thinking about what everything represents.
From here we headed back to the hotel for the night after a long but awesome day.