Gettysburg

Since I was a little boy growing up in Southern California, Gettysburg has been a point of fascination and awe for me. It was a turning point in the Civil War. That’s where President Lincoln gave one of his most famous speeches. Anybody with an interest in American history wants to visit the site. And now, for the first time in my life, I got to spend a day there. Gettysburg is only 79 miles from home.

The Visitor’s Center houses a Museum, Theater, Cyclorama, Café, and super-important for us . . . the Bookstore.

First on the to-do list was an introductory film, which was brief, but well done.

The museum itself was fascinating. It started with the events leading up to the election of 1860 and the secession of the Confederate States, then transitioned to the battle itself. I must admit that some of the quotations, images, and artifacts were quite disturbing. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why people justified slavery and the horrendous mistreatment of human beings.

Cycloramas used to be a popular way for people to experience art “from the inside.” Originally created by an Irish painter in 1787, they became popular in the 1800’s. The intent is to allow viewers to be surrounded by the images as if they were standing in the middle of the actual location. The Gettysburg Cyclorama accomplishes this so well.

After the museum and the Cyclorama, we got a drink and a snack from the Battlefield Café, and then spent some time exploring the bookstore. We love books and we love learning, so this was special for us. The store also has clothing and souvenirs.

And then on to the battlefield tour itself. We like going at our own pace, which is almost always slower than if we were in a guided tour. The reason we are slower is not because we are slowpokes. Oh no. We can keep up with anybody. The reason we prefer to go at our own pace is because we want to learn more and see more. OK, let’s be totally honest here . . . LINDA is the one who wants to learn more, read more, see more, do more. The woman can’t get enough information, knowledge, and detail.

So, we did the self-guided audio tour, using the Gettysburg National Military Park app on her phone. It’s the exact same information and videos available on the park’s website. The park ranger featured in the videos is Ranger Christopher Gwinn, Chief of Interpretation and Education, and he was fantastic.

The last stop on the driving tour was the Gettysburg National Cemetery, and is definitely worth visiting. This is where President Lincoln gave “a few appropriate remarks.” Interestingly, he wasn’t the main speaker that day. The primary orator was Edward Everett, a nationally known speaker who spoke for over two hours. Later on, he wrote a letter to President Lincoln, saying that he wished he could have accomplished in two hours what Lincoln had done in two minutes.

When the tour was over, we got to choose from among several interesting restaurants. We selected the Dobbin House, and enjoyed a delightful candlelight dinner, the highlight being the Date Nut Bread. Yes, we brought a loaf home.

During our meal, my wife asked her typical question: What was one of the most meaningful experiences of your day? I’ve been on her famous study abroad trips to England, so I know she asks her students that very question at the end of every day. My answer on this particular day in Gettysburg was twofold. First, the absolutely horrible attitude that slaveholders had about their African American “property.” Second, being on the battlefield and seeing the terrain and the distances.

We plan to return to Gettysburg in September to continue to experience and learn a little more. Or maybe a lot more. One day merely whetted the appetite.

Wednesdays in Washington

When my wife and I had an invitation to take a job in Annapolis, Maryland, we thought and prayed about it, and accepted the invitation. Not only did we value the position and the work we would be doing, we also liked the idea of being near the nation’s capital.

We’ve been to Washington DC several times, but now that we’ll be living here for at least a year, we want to see as much of the area as possible. And, since Wednesday will be my day off, at least for now, that’s when we plan do our excursions. We’re calling them Wednesdays in Washington.

Our first trip to the city, we drove to the Metro station in New Carrollton, parked the car, and took the public transportation. We were stunned to find nobody else in our car. Not one other person. When we landed at the Smithsonian, we climbed the steps to exit, but I wanted a picture of the tracks below, and was surprised to find nobody there. Again, the place was abandoned. Maybe because of Covid, but it was quite strange to see a Metro station so empty.

We knew that most of the museums in town were closed, but we wanted our first visit to be at the National Mall, anyway. We were hoping there might be some cherry blossoms still on the trees, but alas, not one blossom remained. But there were three memorials we had never visited.

Walking around the basin, we came to the Jefferson Memorial. Despite the fact that it was scaffolded for renovation, it was open, and we got a chance to read about the man and his impact. His writing and speeches on liberty and freedom were probably among the greatest influences in the founding of the United States. Freedom of thought, religion, and conscience. Political liberty, education, and the equality of all people. These were some of the values and commitments he proclaimed and worked into the fabric our founding documents, laws, and policies. It’s a shame our country has taken so long to implement these concepts that were stated so long ago.

Another site we hadn’t visited was the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. FDR was president at a crucial time in history. It was a tough time not only for the United States, but around the world. The Great Depression brought poverty and ruin to millions of people, and was followed by World War II. President Roosevelt rose to the occasion in both crises and took action. One of his quotations engraved on the stone walls declared, “There should be no forgotten men, and no forgotten races.”

This allowed us to segue to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and saw the sculptor’s portrayal of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech: This is our hope . . . We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope” is carved into the stone which Dr. King is portrayed as emerging from.

From there we walked to the Lincoln Memorial, the Viet Nam Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the Washington Monument, talking, reflecting, and taking pictures as we walked. We had totally missed lunch, and were starting to feel the effects of not eating. Fortunately, we came across an ice cream vendor who rescued us. After resting a bit while eating our ice cream, we walked back to the Metro station and retraced our journey til we arrived back at our home. Tired, but perhaps more-informed and wiser.

Only a Receptionist

Call the Midwife Jenny (3)Last night, my wife and I watched another episode of the BBC television show, “Call the Midwife.” In this segment, the doctor had to be away from the office because of an emergency, and his wife, who functioned as the receptionist, was running the clinic. When the patients realized the doctor was gone, they refused to let her help them because they were totally unaware that she had worked as a nurse for ten years. In their eyes, she was “only a receptionist” and they bolted for the door until a doctor or nurse was there. The next morning, the “receptionist” was dressed in a nurse uniform, and when she opened the door to let the clients in, they saw her as a professional medical caregiver, and accepted her expertise. Even though she was the same person, respect came with the right uniform.

This concept was the basis of John Molloy’s 1975 book titled Dress for Success, and the sequel two years later, The Woman’s Dress for Success. The average person is highly influenced by other people’s outward appearance, and most of us aren’t able to see beyond the surface. If people look good on the outside, we think more highly of them. But if their appearance isn’t impressive, we think less about them and, too often, we treat them worse.

This interpersonal dynamic can be seen in the Bible, too. In 1st Samuel chapter 16, the Lord told Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the new king. When Samuel saw Eliab, he was impressed, and thought this must be the young man who would be king. But the Lord said to Samuel in a now-famous verse, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

It seems people of every generation have to re-learn this lesson. It took a vision from the Lord to bring Peter to the point of admitting that “God shows no partiality.” James had to remind the church not to treat wealthy people better than the poor when he wrote, “My brothers and sisters, believers in Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”

It’s important for us to dress appropriately for work and business appointments. It does make a difference how people see us and think about us. But Christians are called to be different. We can grow in our relationship with Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to help us see people through His eyes, to see beyond the outward appearance and see the heart, the real person. We are called to treat all people with dignity and respect, no matter who they are or what they look like.

The apostle Paul tells Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because he is young. I think it would be fair to replace “young” with a number of other possible factors. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are poor, darker skinned, an immigrant, a woman, a senior citizen, or unemployed. The apostle continues, “Instead, set an example by the way you live and the way you conduct yourself.”

Only a receptionist? Only a teen? Only a woman? Only an immigrant? Only a farmer? When I mentor people, I remind them never to use the word “only” when talking about themselves or others. As Christians and as human beings, we have an opportunity to get beyond superficial appearances and circumstances when it comes to how we treat people and how we value them.

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Reflections: An Anthology of Memoir and Short Story

Cover on EbookEvery life is a series of stories, and each person an endless repository of action, emotion, and relationship. One of the goals of literature is to capture that collection of raw material, and frame the narrative in such a way that those who read the finished product are invited to participate in a vicarious experience. If the stories are told well, readers can feel pain, joy, love, fear, or wonder. They are able to cry when a lover is betrayed, cringe when the hero of the story is under attack, or crawl under a blanket and hide to escape being discovered by the intruder.

I remember coming home from work one day and discovering my wife and children watching a scary movie on TV. All three of my kids were on the same sofa, huddling together under a blanket as the terrifying story unfolded before their eyes. The fear was real. They were experiencing the lives of the people on the screen.

That’s what happens when a good book is placed in front of your eyes, too. The reader can learn, grow, increase in wisdom, or even become a better friend or lover as a result. Sometimes, reading a selection can lead to anger, motivate to action, or inspire a deeper faith. Other times, you come away so afraid you want to lock the doors and shut out the world.

This anthology represents the collective creativity of seven people who met in a creative writing class in Lakeland, Florida. Some of the stories are nonfiction, meaning the experiences described actually happened. Other selections are fiction, short stories that might sound as if they’re true to life, but didn’t really happen. Good fiction usually does ring true, and good nonfiction should read like a quality short story or novel.

Each writer obviously has a unique personality and writing style, and every story has a different theme and mood. Taken together, this anthology should warm your heart, provoke you to action, inspire you to travel to a place you’ve never been before, and entice you to want to read more. Some of the stories will cause you to question what you believe, and others will affirm what you already consider to be true. Perhaps you’ll find yourself sitting in your chair with a smile breaking across your face, or see yourself in one of the scenes.

Several of the stories in this collection deal with sensitive issues like racism, gender equality, elitism, religion, or national origin. One anecdote, written by a person of color, refers to an inappropriate term for African Americans. The author of the story is talking about society’s values, which carry over to a form of institutionalized or enculturated racism. The contributors to this anthology, the editor, and the Rath Connextions and Education Center are not promoting the use of the term, nor are we condoning racism or the demeaning of any person or people group. We desire to honor and respect the experiences of all our contributors and readers.

We offer this anthology in the hope that you are entertained, enlightened, informed, or inspired. And just maybe, all of the above.

The book is available on Amazon.com.

 

The Old Chevy

1When we drove up to the historic motel on Route 66, an old Chevy parked out front caught our eye. It had to be more than sixty-five years old, and though the paint was faded, worn-off, and rust-eaten the car still exuded a certain charm and beauty. A couple of the tires were flat and one window was permanently open. Yet, it had a stately dignity that spoke of a time when it ruled the road.

Once upon a time, this automobile was the lifeline for an entire family. Dad drove it to work; Mom took it shopping. Weekends were for family outings, and Sundays for going to Church. Each summer she took her family to a far-off destination, and special occasions saw her at family get-togethers. The kids learned to drive behind that huge steering wheel, and longed for the day they might get a car of their own: something new, shiny, and fast, with the latest technology.

But the old Chevy had long ago been discarded. Removed to the junkyard, where it sat for a decade: unwanted, untended, and ignored. Just taking up space.

Sometimes we look at people that way. We have no time for the elderly, no interest in what they have to offer or what they’ve accomplished. They had their day in the sun; now it’s our turn. We look at people of different ethnicities similarly. We too easily disregard their importance, their feelings, their dreams and ambitions, and what they can contribute to the community or the church. We treat children as though they were worth less than adults, and teens as if they should be banished to a remote island.

The Bible, on the other hand, tells us to honor people, value them, and care for them. To look for the beauty and the charm that are still there in every human being. Romans 12:10, for example, says to honor and give preference to one another.

James 1:27 reminds us that “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction.” In other words, we’re supposed to honor those in society who are helpless or in less fortunate circumstances.

The writer of Job adds to this discussion by recognizing the dignity of the common person and by identifying with the hireling and the slave. “Do not mortals have hard service on earth? Are not their days like those of hired laborers? Like a slave longing for the evening shadows, or a hired laborer waiting to be paid?”

In context, Job is saying there’s no difference between the rich and the poor, the master and the slave, when it comes to how hard life can be. We all want rest at the end of the day, we all want a better life for our family, we all have hopes and dreams, we all need love and friendship, and we all crave acceptance and respect.

The apostle Paul summarizes in Philippians chapter two, where he simply says we are to value others above ourselves.

The woman who owned the roadside hotel told us that a lot of her customers express an interest in old cars and the way life used to be on Route 66. So, she called a friend who had a junkyard, and asked if there was an old car she could buy. Her friend gave her the Chevy and brought it to her motel, where it has attracted attention and sparked conversation among people from all over the country and all around the world who see the car while driving by.

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