Beyond the Castle's Keep


It’s known as the Smithsonian Castle and it certainly stands out on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Living up to its namesake, the building rises like a fortress on the edge of our nation’s most-celebrated lawn. Constructed out of red sandstone, the building is hard to miss.
Or at least it was hard for me to miss this past week. Rebecca and I were in D.C. for a brief trip to celebrate the retirement of Brent Walker, the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Rebecca has been serving these last years as the co-chair for their Religious Liberty Council. “The BJC’s mission is to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, furthering the Baptist heritage that champions the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government.”
While Rebecca met with their Board on Monday, I did my morning run on the Mall.
Of all the many museums in the Smithsonian system, the Institute’s Castle was one that had previously escaped my attention. Well, until this trip. It is a breathtakingly beautiful facility that is overshadowed by the museums it has spawned.
Today, the facility serves as the official welcome center of the Smithsonian Institute. However, when the Castle was completed in 1855 it housed the nation’s treasures. For over 30 years the Castle was the sole repository for our country’s museum collections and exhibits.
And then, the museum outgrew its home. Over the following years and decades, new museums would spring up on the Mall to house the priceless collections of our history, art, and heritage. Just this past weekend, the newest addition opened to wide-acclaim—the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
I adore the Smithsonian Institute. It tells our nation’s story. The family of museums details the wounds, triumphs, mistakes and redemptions that make up our collective history. The Smithsonian Institute deftly reveals the beauty we are capable of, and the resilient nature of our identity. 
From manmade devices that soared into the heavens to the revolutionary ideas that are the cornerstones of our freedoms, a visit to the Smithsonian Institute both humbles and inspires. It’s hard to hide one’s pride for what we’ve accomplished in the past and what we can be in the future when you visit our nation’s capital.
As our plane took off from Reagan National Airport and banked toward Northern Virginia on Tuesday, we were afforded a sweeping view of the District of Columbia. And I couldn’t help but be proud of the courage it took to build newer and bigger museums to line the Mall. The Smithsonian Castle was the starting place, but it could not hold our history or our most priceless possessions. Instead of keeping our identity and our promise stunted in a building much too small for our future hope, the Smithsonian was given permission to leave its original footprint and spread out across the street and beyond the grassy fields.
This is my hope for the Church.
Of course, the story of the Smithsonian’s growth, mission and influence mirrors the growth of the Church over the past 21 centuries. Instead of trying to fit into one particular space, context or culture, the Church expanded across the globe. We are followers of Jesus because others before us were not content with the expression and scope of the call that they once knew. They realized that the Church was bigger than any one building. And its members allowed it to burst out of its first home to influence and impact the arc of human history.
We, too, are called to go beyond who we are and what we’ve become. Our identity is more than our physical location. To where and to whom are we being called?
Today, the Smithsonian Castle is a jumping-off place for further learning and engagement. It contains maps and models that can help us to locate where the larger work and storytelling can be found. The castle has administrative offices and provides hospitality to weary but curious travelers. It showcases the past but has open doors with friendly docents to help point the way to the next step. 
I don’t know about y’all, but it sounds like a fitting image of Church to me.