The Church of Two Worlds

On this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by the building that houses one of the more unusual churches in the city, The Church of Two Worlds.  The church was founded in 1936 by the Rev. H. Gordon Burroughs.  Initially the church met all over the city, holding services in hotel banquet rooms and, for a time, even at the French Embassy.  In 1960 it bought the building where it currently resides, which was built in 1906 as a Methodist church, and then was the home of the Bible Presbyterian Church of Washington.

But what makes the church different is not its building.  The building, located at 3038 Q Street (MAPin northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, has a tan brick exterior, stained glass windows, and large wooden doors that together give it the appearance of a typical local church.

What makes The Church of Two Worlds unusual is that it practices Spiritualism, whose philosophy holds to the doctrine that the spirit exists distinct from matter.  Now that may not be all that different from many other churches.  But where it begins to become unusual in comparison to most other churches is that one of Spiritualism’s goals is to prove the continuity of life by contacting the spirits of the dead, or “discarnate humans”, who they believe continue to maintain their individuality and personality after the change we know as death, and have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living.

Further, adherents of Spiritualism, also known as Spiritists or adherents of Spiritism, believe the spirit world is not as a static place, but one in which spirits continue to evolve and advance beyond where they were in this world.  And because they believe that contact with spirits is possible, and that spirits are more advanced than humans, they believe that spirits can provide followers with useful and practical knowledge about moral and ethical issues, as well as offer insights into the nature of God, whom they often refer to as Infinite Intelligence.

Other beliefs or practices of Spiritualism include belief in the power of their faith to cure diseases, healing with crystals or energy, and that healing can be helped by meditating on chakras.  They also believe in readings and past-life regressions, and that all reality is spiritual, not material.

On a lesser scale, The Church of Two Worlds is different from many other churches in that it’s members can sleep in on Sundays.  But they may have a scheduling conflict during football season.  They meet on Sundays, but not until 2:00pm , when activities begin with ministers conducting a healing service.  Then at 2:30 p.m. a teaching service begins, in which ministers provide information and topics such as communication with spirits, meditation, prayer, and mediumship.  A message service then begins, which includes the availability of mediums who give messages from spirits to anyone who wants one.  This is followed by food and fellowship in the church’s Fellowship Hall.

Some famous Spiritists include author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, magician Harry Houdini, and the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates.  So if for no other reason, it might be interesting to visit The Church of Two Worlds on a Sunday afternoon to get a glimpse inside the mind of Sherlock Holmes, learn some of Houdini’s tricks, or find out what Hippocrates thinks about modern medicine.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]


Golden Haiku Is Back

Today’s lunchtime bike ride felt like I was riding through a book of springtime poetry.  It was near McPherson Square Park that I first began to encounter the poetry on signs along the sidewalk.  And as I continued to ride I encountered the signs for several blocks in every direction.

Each sign contained a haiku, a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey an experience.  They were placed in sidewalk tree and garden boxes by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, and will remain through the end of March.  They are part of the annual Golden Haiku Contest.  The theme of the short poems is Spring, even though Spring doesn’t arrive officially for over a week.

The signs contain the award winning haiku and judges’ favorites from among this year’s 1,675 submissions from 45 countries and 34 states, and D.C.  The contest judges chose their top three haiku, a D.C. winner, honorable mentions and dozens of judges’ favorites to share with the public and, in their words, “bring a smile to commuters and visitors alike and brighten the winter landscape as flowers begin to bloom.”

I took the following photos of the signs I saw, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.  Which one is your favorite?

[Click on any thumbnail to view a gallery of full-size versions]

NOTE:  The Golden Triangle Business Improvement District is comprised of a 43-square-block neighborhood that stretches from DuPont Circle to Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP).

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view extremely high resolution photos]

Horticulturalists at the National Park Service are predicting that the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin here in D.C. will peak sometime between this coming weekend and the following Tuesday.  One of the methods by which they make this prediction is by gauging the stages of development of the buds on the indicator tree and then comparing that to the development of the buds on the other trees.

There are basically four stages of development for cherry blossoms before they reach their peak bloom.  The first stage is referred to as the green buds stage. This stage, when green color begins to be visible in the small brownish buds, usually occurs between late February and early March.  Cherry blossoms emerge before the leaves on the trees do, and the first sign of their impending arrival are green buds on the branches of the tree.

In the second stage of development florets begin to be visible as the buds slowly open.  This routinely occurs from early to mid March, and anywhere between 12 and 17 days before peak bloom.

The middle stage is referred to as peduncle elongation.  This may be my favorite stage for no other reason than just because of the name.  This is when the blooms grow stems and emerge outward from the buds.  When this stage occurs it is usually about 5 to 10 days until peak bloom.  However, this stage is very susceptible to weather, particularly frost, which can delay the process.

The last stage of development before peak bloom is referred to as puffy white.  This applies to all blossoms, regardless of color.  This averages between four and six days prior to peak bloom, and is characterized by the blooms begin to open up.

Finally, the tree’s peak bloom arrives.  How long the bloom last depends on how long they have been exposed to cold temperatures.  A warm spell in the 60s or 70s will produce blooms lasting four to five days, while colder temperatures could extend the blooming period so that it lasts between seven and 10 days.

Interestingly, during the blooming stage not all blossoms remain the same color.  Many are dark pink when in bud, lighter pink when they first blossom, and then eventually pale pink or white.  Others may open as a white flower and change color to pink over the course of a few days.

The entire blossom season is relatively short.  Full bloom, known as mankai in Japanese, is usually reached within about one week after the opening of the first blossoms, or kaika.  Another week later, the blooming peak is over and the blossoms are falling from the trees like snow from the sky.  Strong wind and rain or other adverse weather can cut the blooming season even shorter.  So don’t hesitate going.  If you do, you may be too late.

Note:  After enlarging it, see if you can find the photo-bomber in the photo for the Green Buds stage.

The Indicator Tree

There are approximately 1800 cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.  And every year the visual spectacle of their blooming draws tourists from all around the world. The most recent estimate by the National Park Service is that they will reach peak bloom between March 17th and 20th this year.  Peak bloom is the day when 70 percent of the blossoms are open in the trees around the Tidal Basin.  If the Park Service is correct, this year’s peak bloom will be quite early.  In the past, peak bloom has occurred as early as March 15th and as late as April 18th.

Because different trees can bloom ahead of or behind the average, the entire blooming period can last up to 14 days.  However, frost or high temperatures combined with wind or rain can shorten this period, which includes the days leading up to peak bloom. However, there is one particular tree that is consistently a week to ten days ahead of most of the others around the Tidal Basin.  Because of this distinctive trait, it has become known as “the indicator tree”, and it is used to get an idea of where the other trees will be in a week to ten days. It’s also one of the key pieces of the puzzle that the Park Service horticulturalists use in making their predictions.

There are no signs indicating which tree is the indicator tree. So unless it happens to be covered in blossoms while the other trees around it are not, you really have to know how to find it.  Here’s how: From the south end of the bridge on Ohio Drive looking towards the Jefferson Memorial, the walkway splits into two, with one path to the left going alongside the road and another path to the right, which then splits into two as it approaches the water of the Tidal Basin. The indicator tree is where the path to the right splits into two (MAP). It’s the first old-looking tree you come across and is standing right next to a large holly tree.

It’s not the most majestic of the old trees.  Not even close.  And it’s been severely pruned over the years. But for whatever reason, this tree can be counted on to provide advance warning of the much-anticipated peak bloom.

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by to see the indicator tree. The tree seemed to be several days, or maybe even a week or more away from blooming.  Also, the weather prediction is also calling for colder weather, including possible snow or wintery precipitation later this week, which may impact the timing of the peak bloom.  So if my reading of the indicator tree is accurate again this year, the peak bloom may occur later and the Park Service’s prediction may have to be revised.

I am fortunate enough to be able to see the cherry blossoms every day, from the: initial green color in the buds; to when the florets are visible; through the peduncle elongation stage; and when the buds turn puffy white; and then, finally, when they are in full or peak bloom.  But if you aren’t as fortunate and are traveling here from out of town to see the blossoms, keep checking to see if the Park Service revises their prediction.  However, as it stands now, the park service says you should be here in D.C. starting on March 17th.  And since that’s St. Patrick’s Day, you should consider stopping by the Irish embassy and/or having a green beer and a Reuben at one of the city’s many Irish pubs while you’re here.


[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

UPDATE:  On March 12th, the National Park Service revised its prediction for the cherry blossoms peak bloom, shifting it0 back ten days later than it initially predicted.  They are now saying peak bloom is likely to occur between March 27th and 31st.⠀

Statue of Mayor Marion Barry

This past weekend a statue was unveiled in front of the John A. Wilson Building, which houses the mayor’s office and the D.C. Council, and is located at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), just blocks from the White House.  The statue is of a man who to some people was a “living legend” who advocated for the city’s poor.  To others he was a controversial figure, best remembered for being re-elected mayor despite serving a prison sentence for possession of crack cocaine.  The statue is a memorial to former D.C. “Mayor For Life” Marion Barry, who died at age 78 in 2014, and is buried here in the city in Historic Congressional Cemetery.

The 8-foot-tall, bronze statue of Barry was created by Maryland-based sculptor Steven Weitzman.  The statue was commissioned by the Executive Office of the Mayor in partnership with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Marion Barry Commission, with its estimated cost of approximately $300,000.00 paid for by a combination of both taxpayer and private funds.  It is the first permanent public honor the District has given Barry, and one of only three full-body statues in the city of African Americans.

Barry’s supporters contend that Barry embodied the spirit of Washington and point to his: work in the 1960’s as a civil rights activist; serving as the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; being elected to the D.C. Board of Education; being elected to a seat on D.C.’s first elected city council; serving for a total of 16 years on the city council, the last 13 of which after he was shot by radical Hanafi muslims, from a breakaway sect of the Nation of Islam, when they overran the District Building in March of 1977; becoming the first prominent civil rights activist to become chief executive of a major American city, serving four terms as the city’s mayor, and; a number of notable achievements such as the founding the city’s summer jobs program which is now named after him.

But Barry’s detractors say he was also very controversial, and continued to be plagued throughout his life and career by: various legal problems such as failing to file tax returns and pay taxes; a variety of traffic violations including drunk driving and, at one point, accumulating over $2,800.00 in unpaid tickets for speeding and parking violations; conflicts of interest while in office, including personally benefiting from awarding a city contract to his then girlfriend;  being caught on videotape being arrested and subsequently convicted of smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room with an ex-model and propositioning her for sex, and; making racist remarks about Asian Americans at a party celebrating his primary victory during the election when he was elected to his last term on the city council, on which he served until his death.

Regardless of personal opinions about him, Barry’s legacy might best be summarized by the campaign slogan he adopted when he emerged from prison and dove straight back into politics: “He May Not Be Perfect, But He’s Perfect for D.C.”

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly

In this country we do not have a king or royalty.  Instead, we have an elected president. And unlike a king, our president does not have a throne.  But if our president did have a throne, today I saw the one upon which our current president would probably sit.  The throne looks like something that might have come directly out of President Trump’s private home or office.  However, it is instead located in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which is located at 8th and F Streets (MAP), in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of northwest D.C.

The throne is named “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly”, and it is a piece of folk art created by an African-American janitor and outsider or naïve artist named James Hampton.

Hampton was born in Elloree, South Carolina, in 1909.  In 1928, he moved to D.C. and shared an apartment with his older brother, Lee.  Hampton subsequently worked as a short order cook, served in the Air Force where he worked as a carpenter, and eventually became a night janitor with the General Services Administration.

Hampton never worked as an artist, or even had any formal training in art techniques, art history, or art theory.  But shortly after his brother’s death he began spending his time during his off-hours in a rented garage secretly creating a large assemblage of religious art, including the throne, as a monument to God.  However, he was a man of extremely modest means.  So he created his art, and built the throne, out of various old and recycled materials like aluminum and gold foil, old furniture, pieces of cardboard, old light bulbs, shards of mirror, jelly jars, coffee cans, and old desk blotters, which he bound together using tacks, pins, tape and glue.

It is unknown if Hampton, who also referred to himself as Saint James, Director of Special Projects for the State of Eternity, ever thought of himself as an artist.  He created the Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly in complete obscurity.  In fact, it was only upon his death in 1964, when the owner of the garage which he rented sought to rent the space out again, that Hampton’s work was discovered.  As best can be determined by art historians, Saint James dedicated his off-work hours from about 1950 until his death fourteen years later to assembling The Throne.

The Throne eventually landed in the possession of the Smithsonian and, thankfully, became part of our national folk art heritage instead of our modern political tradition and culture.




[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  These photographs do not begin do The Throne justice.  In person it is absolutely massive sitting in it’s dark purple alcove.  And the play of light off the foil and mirrors not only makes it shine, but it seems to actually glow.  I highly recommend seeing it in person to experience its full effect.

The Reverend Billy Graham Lying in Honor

On my daily lunchtime bike ride today I rode to the U.S. Capitol Building, where the Reverend Billy Graham, who passed away a week ago today at the age of 99, is lying in honor.  Lying in honor is reserved only for private citizens, who are given the honor of having their casket placed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda for public viewing. Including Billy Graham, only four private citizens have been given this honor. The first citizens to be given the honor are U.S. Capitol Police Officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, who were killed in the line of duty during a shootout in the Capitol Building in 1998.  Civil rights icon Rosa Parks also lied in state after her death in 2005.  The Reverend Graham is the fourth, and the only religious leader in history to be given the honor.

Prior to lying in honor in the Capitol Building, the Reverend Graham lay in repose on yesterday and the day before at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte North Carolina. Thousands visited and paid the evangelist their respects.  Lying in repose is actually different from lying in honor or lying in state.  Lying in repose typically refers to when the casket of someone of high stature can be publicly viewed in a building other than the Rotunda, so the public can pay their respects.

There are no official rules that dictate who can lie in state or who can lie in honor, except that customarily only government officials can lie in state, versus private citizens who can lie in honor. The casket is typically guarded by the U.S. Capitol Police. The decision to grant this honor is made by a concurrent resolution of the House and Senate, and can be granted to anyone, with the family’s approval, who has given distinguished service to the nation.

I made sure to get there early, even before the viewing was open to the public.  Unfortunately, the line of people already there and waiting to file by and pay their respects was prohibitive for someone who had only their lunch hour before having to go back to work.  Despite getting there approximately an hour and a half early, there were already thousands of people in a line that stretched from the building out to the street, and then the equivalent of another eight city blocks.  So as I left, I couldn’t help but think that the line of people, in and of itself, would seem to serve as a testament to the respect so many people had for the great man who came to be known as “America’s Pastor”, and his service to our country, the world, and God.


[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]


Georgetown’s “Swords Into Ploughshares” Fence

A while back I heard a story about an iron fence in Georgetown which was supposedly built using hundreds of rifles as the pickets.  Wanting to see for myself, I rode to Georgetown during today’s lunchtime bike ride and personally examined the iron fence in question, which surrounds the property at 2803 and 2805 P Street (MAP).

The story goes that in 1859, Hall M1819 rifles were being stored at an armory in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, while preparations were being made to ship some of them out west to San Francisco.  However, a famed abolitionist named John Brown and his militia, consisting of 21 men (16 white and 5 black),  had been watching the arsenal and planned to seize the shipment of firearms and use them to supply an army of abolitionists.  On October 16th of that year, the Brown militia marched into Harpers Ferry and took both hostages and control of the armory, and established what was briefly known as “John Brown’s Fort.”  However, Brown’s insurrection did not end well, to say the least, for the abolitionists.  A bloody battle ensued and U.S. Marines, led by Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee and his aide J.E.B. Stuart, recaptured the Amory.  Brown was subsequently hanged for treason.

For whatever reason, the raid prompted the military to cancel the shipment of Hall Rifles.  Instead they were auctioned off instead.  A Georgetown merchant and landowners named Rueben Daw purchased the guns and used the barrels to build a fence.  Census records from that time indicate that Daw had also worked as a gunsmith, making it tempting to think that he might have enjoyed constructing the fencing around his property with gun barrels.

So do do I think the story is true?  Well, on one hand there are other stories about the fence.  But none of the stories began until a half a century after Daw passed away.  So it’s really impossible to know for sure.  On the other hand, while I was unable to definitively determine for myself the accuracy of the story, the Harper’s Ferry arsenal one is the most plausible.  Additionally, when I examined he fence there were some signs that to me indicated that the fence was constructed using old rifles.  For example, there are cracks in some of the pickets that not only reveal that each picket is hollow, but also that the walls of the pickets are far thicker than is structurally necessary for a perimeter fence.  And the gun barrel fence is significantly more robust than other neighborhood fences, with each picket measuring about an inch in diameter.  Additionally, some of the pickets have small protrusions which, to me, very much resemble gun sights.  Finally, the pointy spiked tops are clearly separate inserts rather than wrought from the same piece of metal as the tubes.

So given my opinion that the fence is, in fact, made from recycled old rifles, and taking into account that the other stories contain inconsistencies or factual inaccuracies, I tend to believe the most plausible story about the Georgetown’s gun barrel fence.  And at this time in our country’s history, in which our society is in the midst of a heated debate about the 2nd Amendment and gun control, I think we could use more “swords into ploughshares” stories like it.


[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Benjamin Bannekar Park

During today’s bike ride I found myself riding in a traffic circle near the south end of L’Enfant Promenade and the intersection of Interstate 395 and Maine Avenue (MAP), in Southwest D.C.  Located within the traffic circle is a little used and rather neglected park.  Although I had been there before, I knew almost nothing about the park other than it’s name, Benjamin Bannekar Park.  So I decided to find out more about it.

Operated by the National Park Service, it was designed by modern landscape architect Dan Kiley and constructed in 1967.  But the small park that comprises the terminus of L’Enfant Plaza initially had no name.  However, after Congress passed legislation in 1998 authorizing a memorial in D.C. to Benjamin Bannekar, the park was chosen and named in his honor.

The 200-foot wide elliptical park sits atop a hill with grassy expanses surrounding it.  It’s elevated location offers of the D.C. Waterfront to the south, including The District Wharf and the Maine Avenue Fish Market.  The park’s circular plaza forms a conical central water feature of more than 30 feet in height when in operation, and combined with concentric rings of London plane trees and low concrete walls make the setting makes for a nice respite from the city, especially to workers in the numerous office buildings along L’Enfant Plaza.

The park’s namesake, Benjamin Banneker, was born on November 9, 1731, in Baltimore County, Maryland, to Mary Banneky, a free black, and Robert, a freed slave from Guinea, who became a primarily self-taught astronomer, mathmetician, naturalist, farmer, almanac author, abolitionist, writer and surveyor.  Banneker’s knowledge of astronomy helped him author a commercially successful series of almanacs.  He also corresponded with Thomas Jefferson on the topics of slavery and racial equality.  Abolitionists and advocates of racial equality promoted and praised his works.  Unfortunately, most of his written works were lost due to a fire that occurred on the day of his funeral.

What he is best known for, and the reason for a memorial in his honor here in D.C., is that Bannekar was part of a group, led by Major Andrew Ellicott, that surveyed the original borders and set the original boundary stones of the District, thus helping Pierre Charles L’Enfant design the national capital city.

Sadly, years of neglect have caused Benjamin Bannekar Park to fall into a state of severe disrepair.  And the numerous renovation discussions that have occurred in the past have not resulted in any significant changes.

But that is now changing. With the opening of the first section of The District Wharf, the National Park Service, in cooperation with the National Capital Planning Commission, began constructing an improved pedestrian connection between the National Mall and Memorial Parks and the waterfront along Maine Avenue, which includes a stairway and ramp between the overlook at Benjamin Banneker Park and the southwest waterfront.  The rest of the renovation project, which is currently underway, also includes landscaping, improvements to pedestrian crosswalks, lighting installation, universal accessibility, and stormwater management.  If all goes as proposed, the park will not only be restored to it’s former glory, but exceed it. I look forward to going back and seeing it again once the renovation is completed.


[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

In Memorium

During today’s lunchtime ride as I was passing by Luther Place Memorial Church, located at in Thomas Circle, a number of handmade signs caught my attention. So, of course, I stopped to take a closer look and find out more.

The signs contained only names, with no other information at all. So later after my ride I Googled one of the names, but with no results. So I tried Googling a few of the names together. It was then that I discovered that the names were those of individuals in D.C. who passed away last year and were homeless at the time of their deaths. There were 45 deaths in 2017 of homeless people who lived here in the nation’s capital.

As I thought about those people, I also thought about another death that occurred earlier this week, that of the Reverend Billy Graham. Rev. Graham was 99 years old, and passed away peacefully in the long-time family home in Montreat, North Carolina, where he and his wife, Ruth, raised their children. He had plenty of food to eat, and a warm bed in which to sleep. And he was surrounded by and taken care of by his family in his final years since retiring. And people all over the world grieved his death, many having heard about it through the worldwide news coverage of his passing.

In stark contrast to the Rev. Graham’s death, the deaths of our homeless neighbors here in D.C. occurred under very different circumstances. These men and women often had little to no food to eat, no warm bed in which to sleep, and no family members to care for them. They even suffered the same indignity in death as they did in their final days or years of this life, that of not having a home.

Their names were Chris Mason, Darius Duncan, Duane “Joey” Henderson, Galaxina Robinson, James King, Lisa Jennings, Mark Jenkins, Michael Kelley, Michael Dunne, “MS”, Mweane Sikuzote, Nick, Norman Anders, Joseph Watkins, Wilkie “Bill” Woodard, as well as thirty additional unnamed city residents. And very few people knew about them, in life or in death.

And sadly, these neighbors’ deaths while homeless are from just 2017. There were 51 others the previous year, and 41 more the year before that. As this information sunk in, it made me question how in the capital of the richest nation in the world, a progressive city that has declared itself to be a human rights city, this can continue to occur. But I don’t have the answer to that anymore than I have the answer to preventing school shootings like the one that occurred last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

While I don’t have the answers to these problems, I think they are caused by or the side effects of the same thing – the fact that evil exists in this world. And even if there isn’t a solution to the problem of evil, an improvement can occur. But for that to happen we each must try to recognize the different ways in which evil manifests itself, whether it be through commission or omission, and then vigilantly oppose it wherever and whenever we see it.