In Honor of 9/11: The Flight 93 Memorial

Shanksville, PA

My husband I frequently drive between the midwest (our parents live in Michigan/Ohio) and the east coast (we live in Virginia). For years we’ve been promising ourselves we’d stop along the way in Shanksville, Pennsylvania at the Flight 93 Memorial. But by the time we get close we are invariably tired of driving and don’t want to make the detour. We just push the last three hours home.

This August we spent an extra night on the road, so we visited the memorial on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I was so glad we did. Today seemed like the right day to tell you about it. Maybe you will feel inspired to make the detour some time if you can. At least you can enjoy the pictures.

The assortment of visitors was what you might see strolling the National Mall in Washington DC on any sunny afternoon: retired couples in golf visors, parents with school-aged children plus a stroller, a throng of boy scouts in khaki uniform, men and women sporting Harley Davidson logos, a woman or two in hijab, a large Amish family in their distinctive white caps and straw hats. In other words: a cross section of America.

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The Lincoln Hutch, on this Presidents Day

Today we celebrate the lives of two presidents — which is your favorite?

Like every American, I admire George Washington. During an election year, I often reflect on the reason we invest so many powers in the presidential office — because of our exceptional first president.

But I will admit to being a Lincoln aficionado. Perhaps that’s because I grew up playing with Lincoln Logs, and my family visited Lincoln sites on our family vacations. That fondness grew during the six years I served a church located a few miles from New Salem. That’s where Lincoln attempted to run a general store, along with a partner named William Berry, an enterprise which failed. It was William Berry’s father, the Reverend John Berry, who founded the church I served, so there were many connections.

When my family moved to northern Virginia, we had easy access to other Lincoln sites in Washington, DC: the Lincoln Memorial, the Lincoln Cottage and Soldier’s Home, Ford’s Theater and the Peterson house, as well as the trail of John Wilkes Booth. I didn’t think there were many sites I had missed!

Then, this past fall I visited Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, Michigan and discovered that the Logan County Courthouse, where Lincoln first practiced law, was moved — actually physically relocated — to Henry Ford’s mythical village. Here it is:

The Logan County Courthouse, moved from Lincoln, IL to Greenfield Village, Dearborn, MI.

I was impressed to hear the story behind the corner hutch (far left). That piece of furniture was hand-built by Abraham and his father Tom as a way to thank the people who cared for Abe (and his sister and cousin) after his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died. Father Tom went off to procure a stepmother for the family and left the children in the care of friends.

Amazingly enough, this historic piece of furniture isn’t held by the Smithsonian, but by Greenfield Village, a place which has no claim to it, other than Henry Ford’s wealth. It strikes me as ironic that an emblem of one man’s ordinary, humble beginnings could be purchased with the fruit of another man’s astounding financial success. But perhaps I am being too hard on the old tycoon. I’m sure Ford had his reasons for revering Lincoln.

Don’t we all wish our next president could have the same level gaze and fortitude as the man we picture in a stovepipe hat? Lincoln’s leadership was shaped by his humble beginnings, but also by his melancholy. Lincoln knew full well that life is hard. That simple truth is wisdom we all seem too eager to escape.

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Adventure in the Dominican Republic

a Christmas break getaway for our family of four

Throngs of well-wishers are waiting to greet the passengers coming off our plane, which has arrived hours late. It is the middle of the night. The press of people makes us feel like rock stars, but lonely, unclaimed ones. We are not Dominicans returning to their families for the holiday.

It proves impossible to connect with our rental car as arranged. We finally give up and take a taxi to the hotel. By the time we check in, it’s breakfast time. We sleep through the morning. Then the hotel manager, Rafael, makes many calls — over a period of hours — to locate our rental car.

Eventually I am in the driver’s seat of a little Hyundai with a GPS plugged in. (Never mind the SUV I booked months ago.) I gulp and pull into the rush hour traffic. There are motorcycles everywhere, darting in and out, ignoring stoplights. Many motorcycles carry two or three people. Whole families. Some motorcycles carry propane tanks or other bulky items. Horns honk repeatedly. Traffic lanes disappear. Where are we?

We eventually end up in downtown Santiago. We stumble across a Festival of Lights, which is complete with Santa and fairies and Baby Jesus. La Corazon de la Navidad. I breathe deeply and feel at home.

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Santiago, “Corazon de la Navidad”

After a second night, we feel more settled. The strong coffee helps.

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The Real vs. The Idyll

idyll | noun — an extremely happy, peaceful, or picturesque episode or scene, typically an idealized or unsustainable one.

Do you prefer the real thing? Or do you get attached to your idea of what ought to be real, in other words, the idyll?

The push and pull between these two applies to our powers of hindsight. Our memories easily become distorted. Sometimes the idyll of the past becomes an idol.

I idly considered these things as I drove home from a visit to Greenfield Village, where Henry Ford — that idol/icon of American enterprise — built his own version of reality. Ford’s idyll, set in the 1860s, occupies about 80 acres in Dearborn, Michigan, in the area where he grew up. The time-stamped setting is especially interesting/ironic because in a sense it encapsulates the era that Ford helped America leapfrog from.

Henry Ford was born in 1863 and was supposed to take over the family business of farming. But like many smart, ambitious people, he wanted something more than to follow in his father’s footsteps. Ford achieved success on an amazing scale. He did not invent the automobile, but he created The Ford Motor Company, which mass produced automobiles, specifically the Model T. By 1927, his company had produced and sold more than 15 million Model T’s. It’s hard to overstate the significance of 15 million anything in 1927. But automobiles? Automobiles revolutionized the culture and economy of America. In a very real sense, Ford helped America drive into a new era.

And then, it would appear, Ford hankered for the days he had once sprung from and been eager to leave behind. At the apex of his success — beginning in the 1920s and 30s — he began to use his vast wealth to reverse gears a bit. By purchasing historic buildings from around the country and moving them to the Dearborn area, he created a village which would be forever locked in the 1860s. You might even say that he recreated a past he never experienced (except in infancy), and which perhaps never existed.

Riding a Model-T through Greenfield Village.

Riding a Model-T through Greenfield Village.

I couldn’t help but see Greenfield Village with my pastor’s eyes and ponder the idyllic. I prize what is real, and I also prize what is potential. In fact, a pastor’s job is often to move between the two. We call it casting a vision, or doing a mission study, or transforming a congregation. What that amounts to is helping a church come to terms with its real past and move into the possibilities of the future, which are not yet real. This is more difficult than it sounds because church members — like all people — often prefer to cling to an idealized version of the past. Indulging in a past idyll can hamper the building of a future reality. We fancy that the “village” in our memory really was as homogenous, peaceful, and picture-perfect as we remember it to be. Incoming pastors often read golden-toned histories of how the church used to be. See how quaint we were!

Greenfield Village was quaint indeed. The day I was there, the fall weather was perfect and the crowds were few. How fun to wander through a village that’s like Disneyland: exactly real, and, at the same time, completely fake. There’s something about “picture-perfect” that just makes a person happy. Perhaps it pleases our aesthetic sensibilities.

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#HalloWeekends #CedarPoint

Cedar Point is America’s Roller Coast! Dorky but true. For each of the past 22 years, I’ve spent an August day there with approximately 40,000 of my fellow citizens. Since my in-laws live nearby, Cedar Point is part of the magic of our Annual Family Reunion. (You can read a 2013 blogpost about roller coasters here.)

This year I was lucky enough to be able to go off-season, during a HalloWeekend.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper

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ArtPrize Seven

ArtPrize is a radically open international art competition decided by public vote and expert jury that takes place each fall in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I value creative work, so I was glad my trip to Grand Rapids overlapped with the first day of ArtPrize. I was able to spend about 4 hours looking at art, in two 2-hour shifts. What a treat to be part of this meld of community and creativity! I loved watching other people enjoy the art.

Deciding what to vote for was a great way to consider the simple question: What am I drawn to and why? What I noticed about myself: I especially loved large pieces, pieces featuring the human face, and participatory pieces. I’ll share just a few pictures, I could highlight so many others!

Some of the outdoor sculptures are very large, which is splashy and fun and drew me simply because of size and mass. This one also had fabulous content to ponder, as it reinterprets a familiar religious sculpture by updating it with symbols of oppression and persecution. “The Desecration of Adam” (Artist Dean Kugler). (Click here to see the artist statement and many views of the sculpture, without my grinning face in the way!)

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I really noticed the magnetism of faces. I enjoyed the “Nature/Nurture” exhibit in the Grand Rapids Art Museum, especially the section called “Transcendence” (Artist Jess T. Dugan) which was photographs of individuals who identify as neither male nor female. For example:

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The Path More Travelled, and Less Taken

As Labor Day approaches, I am thinking about the work I do, and how grateful I am to be able to write, to do creative work. Not everyone has the luxury of following their artistic passions. Although I hate to call such pursuit a luxury — creative persons usually give up many luxuries in order to pursue their art and craft.

I think of my own artistic pursuits in terms of vocation. I’m a person of faith, so to me vocation means I use a God-given gift for a purpose greater than myself. Does that sound high-falutin’? In practice it’s anything but. In practice it involves a lot of hours at a laptop and way too many cups of coffee.

I sometimes wonder how other artists feel about what they do. For instance, I wanted to tell you about a musician I heard when we were in Norway. Doug and I were near the Bergen harbor on a number of days and, each time, we enjoyed hearing a particular busker. He had a one-man-band setup, and a bicycle with a trailer to haul it around. I snapped a picture. How could I resist someone who was so obviously living his dream?

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Hospitality Makes A Happy Heart

My husband and I have been Air Bnb hosts for more than a year. In addition to providing income, hosting brings emotional rewards. It feels good to offer hospitality to people who need a place to stay. (I’ve blogged about hospitality in relationship to ministry here and here and here.)

This summer Doug and I had the opportunity to be on the other side of the hospitality equation. During our recent house/dog-sitting escapade in Norway, we took a 4-day trip to Oslo. To economize, I booked a whole flat on Air Bnb. The access to a kitchen meant we could pack picnic lunches and cook our own suppers, rather than rely on restaurants. We made a long list of sites to see. We even watched film versions of plays by Ibsen, Norway’s famous playwright.

The first rule of traveling is that life does not go as planned. Not only was the weather dreary and rainy, but Doug got sick on the day we arrived — the kind of sick that keeps a person very close to the bathroom. It’s dispiriting to spend a long-anticipated holiday under rain and clouds, especially while the person you love is miserable. It’s like watching a sidewalk list of gaily chalked plans wash away in the rain. There goes the happy face — dissolved into a smear of yellow chalk. And you can’t even complain because you’re not the one who’s sick.

The Kon-Tiki Museum.

The Kon-Tiki Museum.

Still, on the second day — with Doug’s encouragement — I left him behind, borrowed my host’s umbrella, and ventured into Oslo on my own. There were many moments when I almost turned around. It’s not that fun to be alone in a strange, overwhelming place in a pounding rain. Not only did the wind threaten to turn my umbrella inside out, but most signs were in Norwegian only. I struggled to decipher the bus and subway maps. I kept on, determined to return with a story worth telling, at the least. Eventually I found my way to the peninsula housing the Fram Museum (polar exploration ships) and the Kon-Tiki Museum. After that I took the bus to the Ibsen Museum, and the subway home.

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Scenes from Norway

This summer my husband and I were able to spend a couple of weeks in Norway. Because we were house/dog-sitting for some friends in Bergen, we made the visit very inexpensively. Here’s to Layla, the pooch that made it possible.

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Changing Seats

Growing up, my family took long car camping trips. My father was a principal and my mother was a teacher, so they took full advantage of summer vacation. All seven of us piled into a Ford Galaxy for trips we measured in weeks and thousands of miles.

Our trunk was stuffed to capacity and an enormous car top carrier weighted the roof like a turtle. Dad drove and Mom navigated. The youngest sibling sat in the front seat between them and the other four of us were in the backseat, three on the bench and one in the foot space, a cramped spot that we rotated. The arrangement might sound odd today, but in the 1960s and 70s there were no seatbelt laws.

This past week was a sort of family-car-trip reprise, some fifty years later, only this time we changed seats. I was in the driver’s seat, chauffeuring my parents on a 3-day, 700 mile car trip “up north” to the upper peninsula of Michigan. (more…)

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