In front of a congressional building in Washington, there are two statues. One is entitled Majesty of Law, the other Spirit of Justice. Majesty of Law is a Moses-like figure, with a sword in one hand pointed downward and a book in the other emblazoned with the United States Seal. The sword and the book represent the idea that the law has power and wisdom, requiring a healthy respect for the rules necessary for an orderly society.
Facing the statue is Spirit of Justice, a woman holding an oil lamp with a flame. Within her touch is a naked child. The woman and the lamp symbolize vigilance and protection, and the child represents human vulnerability. The fullness of the law, built on the nurturing, protective ideal of justice, stands guard.
These statues often get overlooked as lobbyists scurry in and out, members of Congress race in and out, and school groups rush in and out. Few ever look up. When we lose our sense of wonder about a common narrative as a people, when we forget the purpose of the law, when Washington lurches — “day trading in policy” — not thinking about the long-term dynamics for stability and well-being, it fosters the conditions in which our country becomes increasingly anxious. Busyness cannot replace authentic business.
Add into this tumult an incessant, rancorous media, which stokes and exploits the drama for maximum profit. Naturally, this does not excuse the harsh, often vindictive, partisanship besetting our current political environment, which gives the media plenty of fodder to drive their ratings ever higher. Nevertheless, as the corporate media manipulate emotion, we become diverted from a long and more hopeful view of our country’s unique trajectory.
Amidst all this, good things still happen. In the same building where a secret meeting was held with a top leader at the Justice Department about the special investigation into Russia, right nearby school children learned about our nation, innocently following parents and chaperones throughout the cavernous halls. While the president of Colombia updated us on the latest peace process to end years of a guerrilla war, the walls of the Capitol were being prepared to hang the artwork of Zoë Sjuts from Nebraska. As a congressional art contest winner, Zoe depicted her father fishing, in a Nebraska shirt, with a big old bass in his hand and as big a smile on his face. As Congress continues to debate the proper way forward on health care, children at Faith Lutheran in Blair wrote to me about their concern for people around the world.
I once asked a professor to give me the philosophical arguments for the immortality of the soul. He kindly invited me to his forthcoming lecture series. I politely declined given other demands of my schedule. He responded: "You asked me a question about immortality, but you do not have the time?" I ended up going to the lecture.
Governance is hard work. It must apply reason and logic to the hard questions of the day. It must avoid short-sightedness and fight off the temptation for small petty political victories. It must have a gentle side, welcoming the children and families who depend upon protective care. And, finally, it must be reflective, upholding honored tradition for the sake of stability across generations.
If we look up and ponder Majesty of Law and Spirit of Justice, perhaps we can go beyond the immediate drama and trauma to find what is creative, wise and true — if we have the time.