Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Amos 5:24

What a time it’s been for the East Coast! First an earthquake, then a hurricane!

The Musco household came through unscathed, thankfully. We didn’t have it bad at all, just a lot of rain and later some gusty winds, but we had electricity and no trees toppled over. Some friends and neighbors lost power, some even had to boil their water, and another friend who will have to replace the flooring in her finished basement. Our church got six inches of water in the lower level, but repairs already are being done (a big shout out to Jim!).

I’m grateful because it could have been much worse. My heart goes out to those who have been severely affected.

Both the earthquake and the hurricane impacted the National Park Service. The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and Old Post Office Tower—all part of the NPS’s National Mall & Memorial Parks in the District of Columbia—were evacuated and temporarily closed on the Tuesday following the temblor (the Washington Monument remains closed while cracks in the uppermost section are assessed and repaired).

Fittingly, I just finished reading Boyd Matson’s column in the July/August issue of National Geographic Traveler about the National Mall. Entitled “Our Favorite National Park: Not Yellowstone, not the Grand Canyon, it’s the National Mall, and it needs help,” the article takes the reader on a quick tour of the Mall, with Mr. Matson marveling that he can walk to a national park of over 700 acres ten blocks away from his office. “I suspect the average American doesn’t think of the heart of the U.S. capital as a national park,” he writes. “Given the contentious political debates that happen in D.C., the city itself seems the antithesis of what a park should be.”

Here’s some of what’s on the Mall:  Constitution Gardens, honoring the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence; many museums; the U.S. Capitol; and several war and presidential memorials (including the four mentioned above).

As you can imagine, the Mall takes a beating. Those huge rallies you see in D.C.? They’re held on the Mall. “The park grounds are looking shabby,” Matson notes. He quotes an estimate from Susan Spain, project executive for the National Mall Plan, of $606 million to $648 million to make improvements and take care of deferred maintenance.

But enough of the bad news. The day before the earthquake, the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial officially opened to the public. Rather than have me describe it to you, check out these photos. The design was inspired by a line from Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech: “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” King is seen emerging from the stone of hope; the two other granite stones behind him symbolize the mountains of despair.

Even thought it’s already open, the memorial’s formal dedication was supposed to have taken place Sunday, August 28, the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington, when King delivered the speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. But Hurricane Irene took care of that. The new date most likely will be later this month or in October. President Obama will speak at the ceremony.

“I have a dream today!” Dr. King said on that long-ago day. “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

As a pastor, Dr. King knew the above passage based on Isaiah 40:4, 5 had to do with Jesus’s second coming, when the world would be restored, perfect justice would be carried out and God’s righteousness fully prevail. But he also realized they pertained to present realities, as he reiterated in this speech he gave in Memphis, Tennessee, five years later, on the night before he was assassinated:

And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel…Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher?…Somehow the preacher must be an Amos…”Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me,” and He’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor…It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and His children who can’t eat three square meals a day.”

It’s a challenge, a constant balancing act, to be heavenly-minded and do earthly good. I sometimes despair over injustice in the here and now, the shifting standards that deny universal truth, even the rudeness and lack of civility that’s invaded our society from the top down. Some days I feel like throwing in the towel, giving up the fight to be God’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20) in a world that grows more and more hostile to God’s good news.

But I can’t. I want 2 Timothy 4:7 on my headstone: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” And I think Dr. King had that in mind as he concluded his last speech:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land! And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

What happened to Dr. King this side of eternity wasn’t the end. Just as Moses got a glimpse of the land God had promised to him and the Israelites, but knew he would never enter (Deuteronomy 34:4), Dr. King could envision a society where all races where considered equal. But he realized even that beyond that, there was coming an even more perfect day, when there would be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4), when God will “render to every man according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12), when “the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be the only one, and His name the only one” (Zechariah 14:9). Hebrews 11, that great chapter of the faith, lists many Bible heroes and heroines—name and unnamed—sums it up like this: “All these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised [that is, all that was included in Jesus’s return to earth], because God had provided something better for us…” (vv. 39, 40).

And when that happens, as Dr. King so eloquently concluded at the Lincoln Memorial, “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

Oh, may that day come soon! And may we be found doing God’s will when it does (Matthew 24:45, 46).



  1. Susan Panzica says:

    Penny – Here’s the funny thing – While on my vacation I was thinking about your request for a blogpost from me. We went to Shenandoah, but also ended at Washington DC. I was very moved by my time there and considered writing about that instead of Shenandoah. The National Mall IS a National Park after all ;D And here you went and did it! So funny.
    I will work on a post for you though! Promise!

  2. Juliette says:

    Penny I planned on going to the opening in D.C. but God had other plans for us all. You are so right, what Dr. King dreamed is a reality…even though there are injustices to people everywhere in the world we can honestly say that “A change has occurred” and we are more together as one than ever 🙂 – You are inspiring!

  3. Amy Schlaf says:

    I remember the first time you and I saw the Mall in 1970 and we were so impressed. So much has been added since then, I need to visit it again with all your thoughts in mind. Thank you, Penny, you did a GREAT job.

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