A Brief Visit to Jozefow

Travel isn’t always about leisure.  Sometimes it has an element of discovery, self-discovery, and reflection.  Jozefow, Poland is one such destination.

Jozefow is a relatively small village in southeast Poland.  It is near two lakes now largely used for recreation by those in the district, and has large areas of forest nearby.  It was thrust into infamy in the 1940s, however as a one (of the all too many) killing operations perpetrated by the Nazis.

The particular case of Jozefow was used as the backdrop for Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland.  This book and its thesis that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were by in large “ordinary men,” has been debated by Goldhagen and others, but the underlying events remain the same, no matter what the motivation.

The Jewish community of Jozefow was rounded up taken to the nearby forest and killed. What modern Jozefow leaves us is a synagogue now used as a library, a disused cemetery, a memorial in the forest, and a dark legacy of human inhumanity.

It is a sad to me that hundreds of people use the leisure facilities of the nearby lakes apparently oblivious to the events that occurred only metres away in the forest. Fair enough, it was “a long time ago,” but for those of us “in the know,” let’s not let the memory be lost.

Padre

 

Of Fences and Bridges

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I had a discussion with my mother-in-law a while ago about atonement.  On the face of it, atonement is “the action of making amends for a wrong or injury.” Many of us spend a lot of time trying to “mend fences” with our friends and loved ones.

There are two types of wrong or injury involved here.  The first are the wrongs we perceive we have done to others.  Here are some questions to ask yourself before we beat ourselves up too much with these.  Did you do your best in the original situation?  Were your intentions good and honourable? If so, and it still went wrong, then apologise. If not, then try to make amends starting with an apology, and try to fix what went wrong.  Face it, people get things wrong.

The second type, are those things which the other party perceives that you did as hurtful. Again if your intention was good, and you did you best, tell them so.  It is up to them to make peace with the situation in their own minds.  You cannot let yourself become a slave to their lack of forgiveness.

Some things cannot be made right, however.  Sometimes the hurts not only tear down the fences, but burn the bridges as well (mixing my metaphors).  If you have apologied, tried to make amends, and are still rebuffed, it may hurt, but constantly belittling yourself over it will not make it any better for anyone.

Biblically sin is one of those bridge burners.  We separate ourselves from God and others by our actions.  Fortunately, God is bigger than many of our relations who hold grudges. For God so loved the world, that He sent His Son.  Here is a third kind of atonement, where the “wronged” party reaches out to make the atonement.

This is an ultimate example for us.  We too can make amends, not when we have wronged, but when we have been wronged.  In so doing we will live in a world of sturdy fences, and glistening bridges.

Padre

Leisurely Day On the Kiel Canal

 

3- Approcahing First Lock

First Lock

A couple of years ago we made a passage of Germany’s Kiel Canal.  It was a leisurely journey through the German countryside, and offered some wonderful views of the life along the waterway and of nature.

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Peaceful Passage

The canal is long 98-kilometres (61 miles), and provided an entire day of  “chill time,” as we made our way to Scandinavian cities further east.  It was a day for cups of tea, and just taking it in as we sat in the sun loungers.

The people along the route were friendly and we were often waved to by local residents, and hikers and cyclists.  Small ferry crossings and bridges dotted our path, and where these were absent, water-fowl abounded.

Okay, maybe not the most exciting holiday activity (as opposed to water skiing or rock climbing), but for a traveler “of a certain age” it was a wonderful experience.

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Last Lock

Padre

 

 

Christian Character

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“I’m going fishing.”

Brother AJ recently brought us a powerful message.  He focused on Christian character and on the reality of our walk and how it is far superior to any perceived reputation which is a mere shadow of our true selves.

It is God alone that knows who we are, and that needs to be the measure of our character.  King Saul was an effective warrior, but a man-pleaser.  God had given him clear instructions, but he saw his own way (and the ways of the people) as “the way to go.”  The end result was that he was cut off from the very people he sought to please, and became distrustful of everyone.

Simon Peter is also a good case in point.  He was the one at Caesarea Philippi that recognised Jesus’ divinity.  But went on to question many of Jesus’ pronouncements with such phrases as “not so Lord.” He like Saul had his own agenda.  His worldly character overshadowing his spiritual one.  Fortunately for Peter, he was open to correction and even found pardon for his weaknesses.

This raises a question in John 21.  After the resurrection Peter and some of the others had returned to Galilee.  Peter says, “I’m going fishing.”  This is very much debated as to its meaning.  Has he gone home to see what will happen next, and just fancies a day of fishing? Or, has he once again despite the miracle of Easter returned to his own agenda? “Well, Jesus is gone, I might as well go back to my old job.” Remember, Peter had despite his assertion that he would always stand by Him, still denied knowing Jesus three times. But God sees our character, and knew Peter’s human frailty.  Peter, is therefore, lifted up from any self-condemnation.  After fishing, Peter has an encounter with Jesus. “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

This is a job Peter would spend the rest of his life from Pentecost on wards fulfilling. With forgiveness Simon Peter regained his Christian character. How about us?  Are we ready to accept forgiveness for our self-will and embrace our spiritual character?

Padre

 

 

An Afternoon of “Southern Comfort”

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The Southern Comfort “Mississippi” Paddle Boat is a wonderful little touring vessel that plies the Norfolk Broads.  It sets out from The Swan Hotel in Horning and takes a leisurely journey through the Broads taking in the nature, bank-side life, and boating of the waterway. The main sights and history of the area are given a continuous commentary during this 1 1/2 to 2 hour tour.

The Broads are a series of rivers and man-made lakes in eastern Norfolk and northern Suffolk.  These waterways were formed when the peat cuttings (the natural material being used for fuel in Medieval Norwich) flooded over time.  They cover an area is 303 square kilometres, and have over 200 kilometres of navigable waterway.

This tour boat made an appearance as part of the setting of the 2015 film, 45 Years for which Charlotte Rampling received an Oscar nomination.

The Southern Comfort is a great way to take in the area from Horning, along the River Bure through the village and out to Ranworth Broad and back.  The boat accommodates about 100 or so passengers, with upper deck  seating for 68 passengers (with the best views), and  the lower deck has a  lounge that seats 46.

 

The reed beds, thatched houses, and river craft all make for some great photographs.

On the day we toured, the weather was perfect, and we received friendly greetings from the passing boats, and later had a light lunch at The Swan.

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Padre

Three Passions

 

Passion, the dictionary tells us, is a “strong and barely controllable emotion.”  While the uncontrollable element is debatable, many of us use the word to mean “things we enjoy and feel are important.”

Let me state here that in the passion league my relationship with my wife must be taken as a given.  She is my confidant, friend, and companion.

That said, many of us have various “passions” as we go through our life-journeys. Some of these bud, blossom, and fade.  Others remain with us throughout our time on Earth. When I was a teenager, sport was a passion.  I was a relatively accomplished athlete, and I spent long hours in practice and training.  Later my children became the lights of my life. Don’t get me wrong they are still loved and cherished, but they have grown and left home and no longer are an everyday focus of my life.

Education later became a passion.  Those who follow my blog will know I have more education than sense.  But with six degrees, and multiple additional courses under my belt, formal learning has been largely relegated to my past as well.

This leads to my three remaining passions.  The first of these is public speaking.  Yes, I know there are people who fear making a public address even more than death, and the majority of adults have some level of apprehension when it comes to oratory.  But, I love it.  I am a Toastmaster, a preacher, a teacher, and a stage hound when I get the opportunity.  Speaking for me is, like blogging, a release of my pent up thoughts and energies.

The second passion of my present stage in my journey is travel.  I love to explore and experience new places, cultures and foods.  It gives me a richness of knowledge, and experience I could not replicate at home.  I have lived on three continents, and at least five counties.  I have visited nearly thirty nations.  Each has taught me something new. Besides that travel gives me something to speak and write about.

Finally my most enduring passion is my faith.  Belief is something you hold true.  Faith is something you would venture your life over.  And my religious faith is just that.  It is my anchor, and through sport, family, military service, education, speaking, and travel, it has always been there.  This does not mean that my beliefs have not adapted and grown over time.  But the foundational principles of Christianity have guided me.  Thus while I write about public speaking and travel, I still will continually (as in my life) return to the themes of faith, the Bible, and ethics.

What are your passions? Which of them will endure the tests of time?  My challenge to you is to find them, nurture them, and then grow from them.

Padre

 

 

 

Belleau Wood: Semper Fidelis

 

It was a pilgrimage of sorts. We were travelling in northern France and staying at a holiday rental, in a small villages just short of the Belgian border. While there we noticed a plaque near the church which noted the occupation of the village.  No, not “The Occupation” of the 1940s, but rather of World War One.  This small community had been just inside German lines for much of The Great War.

This gave us a thought.   We could visit a WWI site as part of our stay.  This especially interested my English wife as she had through her tracing of her family tree found that that conflict had cost her the life of  a great grandfather (whose war grave she had already visited in Egypt), and a limb of another great grandfather.

What we found was not her heritage, but mine.  We were relatively near Château-Thierry.  A name I knew from a young age from my Marine father, and drilled into me in my own time serving with the Corps.  Our destination then became Belleau Wood.

Belleau Woods - Sign

We knew we were on the right track when we saw the brown information sign “Bois Belleau,” and we continued past the stone gate marked “Bois de la Brigade de Marine.” Shortly afterwards we were there.  The black marble monument of the shirtless Marine, and a cluster of period artillery pieces said we had arrived.

We took some time taking in the tranquility of the wood, and examined the guns, then off we were to the solemn visit to the cemetery.  The rows of white crosses and stars never cease to make me emotional.  What more emotive way could these young men have said, Semper Fidelis?”

 

 

 

 

The Battle of Belleau Wood took place from the 1st to 26th of June 1918.  The recent capitulation of the Russians had freed the German high command to move almost fifty divisions to the Western Front.  These were immediately employed in a major offensive with the hope of defeating the Allies before the new American presence in the war could have an effect.  The result was that the Germans would engage the US 2nd Division, including its elements of the 5th and 6th Marines.  The result (put concisely) was that the German offensive was halted, and then repulsed.

The legacy of the battle is great.  Tradition says that it was here that the USMC earned one of its nicknames Teufelshunde, “Devil Dogs.” A great epitaph for a fighting man, especially when given to him by an enemy.  Of the Marines at “The Wood,”  Blackjack Pershing said, “The deadliest weapon in the world is a United States Marine and his rifle.”  The French as well weighed in on the Marines’ valour, awarding the 5th and 6th Marines the  right to wear the fourragère, and renaming the wood, “Bois de la Brigade de Marine.”

The greatest legacy, however, is found at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. Here the crosses and stars mark the graves of the 2,289 fallen, plus 250 for the unknown, and there is also a listing of the 1,060 missing.  While not all of these were “Devil Dog’s,” it should be noted that more Marines died in that battle than the Corps had lost from 1775 until that time.

Belleau Wood is an important part of history.  As a “tourist” destination it is emotive.  As a “pilgrimage” site for the families of the fallen and for those who have worn Marine Corps green, it is a must.

Padre

 

 

Connect, Don’t Offend!

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One of the (in my opinion) sad commentaries on our society is the free disregard of conventions of politeness used in comedy.  Many leading stand-up acts are filled with the gratuitous use of profanity.  Sexual swear words abound, and while they elicit a laugh, in many cases this comes from the shock value, and often it is more a nervous laughter than a joyful one.

Even Billy Connolly, whose act include such quips as “I felt as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit,” has noted, “I’ve always been fascinated by the difference between the jokes you can tell your friends but you can’t tell to an audience. There’s a fine line you have to tread because you don’t know who is out there in the auditorium. A lot of people are too easily offended.”

Speakers (including comedians) are in the business of entertainment.  If you are offending, you have limited your entertaining.  This is even more pronounced for informational and business communications.  “To inform and entertain” should be the watchwords.

Many have observed that audiences generally only retain three or four points from a presentation.  Do you want that to be an off-coloured joke, or a main selling point of your proposal or product line? Israelmore Ayivor has said, “Be polite in your speeches. Good information rudely communicated will make no positive difference.” How correct he is!

I am not saying you shouldn’t use humour, nor am I saying you need to present yourself as some sort of mid-Victorian prude.  What I am saying is show respect.  Know your audience. Value them, and they will value your message.

Padre

[A side note: While my public speaking posts are focused on oratory (including preaching and business presentations), many of the principles apply to the written word as well.]

 

Discovering Budapest

I arrived in Budapest on a cold October morning.  After getting settled-in at the flat I had booked, I headed for the Hop on Hop off to scope out the city.  This is a city with history, character and contrasts.  This could be noted at the tour bus’ starting point.  Beautiful architecture that had seen better days.

We made our way to the castle, and the Fisherman’s Bastion is all that it was described to be.  This is a beautiful building.  The castle also provides some wonderful views of the Blue (well steely gray) Danube.  Later the Parliament Building was another terrific sight, with the national banners prominent and adding to the colour.

I was fortunate to have a bright, clear couple of days to explore.  It was on the chilly side in the mornings, and with apologies to Jethro Tull, October does not make for Hot Nights in Budapest. But with a jacket, even the evenings and early mornings were comfortable enough.

Buda Castle at Dawn

On the foodie front, I had some wonderful paprika rich casseroles, and a really earthy mushroom dish.  A small cafe near the Margaret Bridge provided me with a slightly bitter latte, but some excellent cream cake.

There is, as on many of my European journeys, the dark side of the legacy of the Holocaust, and of the Communist era.  The Dohány Street Synagogue and the “Tree of Life” memorial are monuments to the former, but not as stark as the “Shoes Memorial” along the bank of the Danube marking the murder of the city’s Jewry.

This is a city to take your time in.  As I was making my way back to my accommodation, I almost literally ran into an “Austro-Hungarian Policeman” near 6 Oktober Street.  Such is the wonder of this city.

Policeman Statue - 6 Oktober Street

Policeman

Padre

Well of Peace

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19 Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. 20 But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek [dispute], because they disputed with him. 21 Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah [opposition]. 22 He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth [room], saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land (Gen 26).”

Conflict resolution takes many forms.  In this account the precious resource of water is at stake.  This has led to wars, and perpetuated famines in the past.  Issac’s approach is not to add to the “dispute,” nor to further the “opposition.”  He instead moves on till there is enough “room” for all.

We so often get caught up in our petty grievances, and perceived “wrongs” committed by others to look for alternative approaches.  Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean to be walked over by others, but rather for options to be sought.  Gandhi once famously said, “there are things I am willing to die for, but none for which I am willing to kill.”  What a wonderful attitude!  Think where we would be if everyone took the approach.

The well at Rehoboth, therefore is a symbol.  A symbol not only of God’s blessing (“we will flourish”) to Isaac, but of Issac’s wisdom and perseverance.  A wisdom and perseverance that led to peace.

Let us have “Rehoboth” [room] for peace today.

Padre