Visiting the Past

Photo credit: © Pixabay.com

The past is open to us

It requires no machine

For in our memory

We can recall what we’ve seen

 

Our lives roll out before us

All that’s come a fore

With a smile we can remember

Events we adore

 

Our loves and fond encounters

To visit in our minds

Requiring just moment

Never leaving them behind

 

So time travel is a concept

Not made just for science fiction

But a reality to us all

With just a little reflection

 

Padre

 

Inspiration Call: Time Travel

Time travel was a genre of both literature and film that my wife, Dianne enjoyed.  She marveled at concept and adored Dr Who, Time Traveller’s Wife, Somewhere in Time, and so many more.  I am blessed now by the memory of having shared these with her, and as the poem suggests revisiting the life we had together.

An Outpouring of Grief

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The massacre in Las Vegas has once again brought society to a point of despair. The tangible grief of my fellow bloggers (and I am sure people everywhere) is plain.  Three bloggers I admire have made very different secondary discussions on the fact that a 64 year old man, on his own, could and did destroy so many lives.

What we do have in common is our primary pain.  Yes, it pales in the face of the families and friends directly involved, but our common humanity calls on us to mourn and to pray.

The first blog I read on the Las Vegas atrocity was posted by Irish, a woman I greatly respect and who has overcome so much in her life.  She offered her frustrations that the evils of this world seem to amass and amass. Irish’s blog was a plea that all of us must feel at times like this.  I wrote to her to say her grief and frustration is what shows we still have hope as a people.

I next read the reflections of another young woman who I admire for her faith and the journey of healing she has made.  She was overwhelmed by the political callousness of many in the wake of the atrocity.  Political one-up-man-ship, and pro or con gun control agendas where there should have been prayer and condolence. BeautyBeyondBone’s blog was moving in its call for prayer and its focus of the motives of ill and destructive people over those of “guns.” She was clear however on the priority of the human and spiritual arguments rather than the political. I have long admired the heart of this young woman.

Chaplain Ian did draw the question of weapons into focus, but not without a Christian heart and one that called us to remember all who have suffered from gun crime, including the latest perpetrator’s own family.  His Christianity and pastoral heart were made plain.

It is this spirit of love and humanity that I find in all three that move me.  Here are three people of very different backgrounds, but all want a better world.  One in which love rather than hatred prevail.

Let us pray for Las Vegas, but also for a hurting world.  Let us love and show love.  Let us find the common ground with all, even those with whom we disagree.  Let us strive to make that difference on relationship or opinion at a time.

Padre

The National Holocaust Centre & Museum (Beth Shalom)

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I have visited the National Holocaust Centre on several occasions.  These have included a field trip with my students, a study visit for my own benefit, and a couple of visits to hear Holocaust survivors give their testimonies.

The Centre is a bit off the beaten track, but has beautiful grounds studded with thought provoking statuary and themed memorials.  The internal spaces include a lecture theatre, library, and the museum.

The Camps Pillar is a potent symbol, as it represents the millions who died in the six camps named upon it, and soil from each lies beneath it.  Other memorials include one dedicated to the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg who rescued thousands to only perish himself.

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Raoul Wallenberg Monument

This being an educational centre, there are several features which focus on children. These include a memorial where you are challenged to place a stone to remember the lost children, a monument to the hidden children and those that protected them, and a bronze sculpture representing the children of the Kindertransport.

The Centre also has regular educational events, and Holocaust survivors regularly tell their stories at the venue.  I have heard Kitty Hart Moxon and others here, and their accounts are powerful and moving.

The museum shows the progression of the isolation and persecution of the Jewish community, and the subsequent events of the Holocaust.  It is deeply touching, and calls for some soul searching on how one might respond in such circumstances.

While not the main focus of such a visit, their are some nice gardens, notably the roses of the memorial garden.  There is also a book shop and places to have lunch.

This is a place to take your time to take it in.  It is  place to learn, to reflect, and to reflect again.  It is well worth the visit.

Padre

Centre’s page for further information

A Place Called Gethsemane

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Olive Trees at Gethsemane

I have had the privilege of travelling in the Holy Land.  While there, I had the opportunity to spend some time in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here are some of my reflections on the experience.

It is a fundamental Christian belief that Jesus was born to die.  Fair enough, we all die, but Jesus came with the expressed purpose of laying down His life so that others might live.

This is clearly prefigured in Matthew chapter 2.  The magi brought the infant Jesus three gifts:  gold (a present worthy of a king), frankincense ( a priestly offering) and myrrh (a substance used in embalming and symbolic of sacrifice).

This clear purpose of sacrifice is later alluded to again in Jesus’ confrontation with Satan in the wilderness. The devil makes three challenges to Jesus, the first (turn stones to bread) tempted Him to focus on His human needs, rather than the spiritual.  The second (to throw Himself off the temple) was a call for Him to seek followers based on signs rather than His message.  The third was an offer of power and rule over the peoples (and apparently their souls) at the expense of Jesus’ bowing down to Satan.  In short “we know why you have come Jesus, why die to redeem them, I will hand them over without pain (but at a price).  Jesus overcomes each trial, and in the end sets His death into motion.

After three years of ministry, this purposeful sacrifice comes to its eve.  The place is an olive grove at the base of the Mount of Olives – Gethsemane.  Here Jesus’ humanity is plain. Matthew 26:36f reads, “when Jesus went with them [the disciples] to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He prayed, “is there another way to do this?”  But in the end, He followed through.

Gethsemane is a pretty place, the ancient olive trees are peaceful.  The views to Jerusalem clear.  But in that night Jesus had to look beyond that peace, to the stark reality of His mission.

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Garden of Gethsemane

Today that agonizing self struggle of Jesus is memorialized by the Basilica of the Agony. Pilgrims and tourists make their way through the bright gardens, and to this church and its giant outdoor mosaic and dark interior.  Inside the ceiling suggests the star clustered sky of Jesus’ final night of His ministry.

Church of all Nations or Basilica of the Agony

Basilica of the Agony

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Basilica Ceiling

Gethsemane is a powerful place to visit.  It is spiritually challenging to believers, as they face the reality of their own role in Jesus’ sacrifice.  It is a beautiful place for tourists as it offers the contrasts of light and dark, the natural and the human.  It as a pilgrim and a tourist is one of the most memorable places I have visited.

Gethsemane Sign

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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

 

 

 

Born Anew, Then Grow Anew

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Many of us are aware of Jesus’ charge to Nicodemus to “be born again.” This had a particular spiritual significance, but the gospel account leaves us with the idea of being born of both water and spirit.

Peter on the other hand picks up on the implications of the concept. I Peter 2 reads, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Jesus had told His disciples that they needed to be like little children.  Peter then expands on this.  Like small children, we need to have an innocent and forgiving nature free of “malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander.”  Okay, children do exhibit some of these traits, but I would argue they are learned through observation of us older than themselves.  As a whole the measure of this innocence is greater in them.  Jesus and Peter focus on this.

But Peter goes further. He calls on us to be as babies (not even as small children) to “crave pure spiritual milk.” This milk is the teachings, ideals, and examples of the scriptures. We are to grow by the food of God, not the dainties of the world. If we do, then our nature will be conformed to the spiritual and not the profane.

So to sum up – avoid ego and its accompanying vices. Seek that which is spiritually, emotionally, and socially positive.  Grow!

Padre

Belzec – A Brief Visit, But Long on Reflection

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Back in 2013 I took part in a training seminar at the Belzec site in Eastern Poland. This monument is at the site of the Nazi death camp.  This is not a concentration camp, but a killing centre. The memorial/museum at Belzec offers a great opportunity to reflect on story of not only of the Holocaust, but on the idea of memory itself. The monument is symbolic on several levels and challenges those who see it to remember.

The monument is made of stones which on one level give the site a cemetery atmosphere, but the symbolism moves further with the stone chosen being slag to reflect burning. This is a chilling reminder. The archaeology of the site found mass burial pits, these are marked out with darker stone. As you enter the pathway through the stones, you first come to iron plates which bear an image that can be seen as either the Star of David or as railway track (or both). The path leads to a remembrance wall.

Surrounding the stones is another walkway which bears the names of the communities which perished there, written in the languages of those communities. The iron of the metal letters at the entrance, has been allowed to weather naturally and the resulting trails of rust are as many tears for those lost community.

The museum at the site has an informative exhibit which tells the story of the site, and of the people whom it commemorates. The small but dedicated staff are helpful, and offer educational programmes as well as general visitor information.

While the memorial site itself does not take long to see, it does offer a more enduring opportunity for reflection.   This is another “must visit” site for its ability to remind us of our past and potential failings as a species, but also for the chance to reflect and to improve.  As a “must visit” site, allow yourself time to take it in and not merely glance (which is easy owing to its size).  Time should also be given for the museum, it too while small, delivers “above its weight” in information and impact.

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Dealing with Critique

People love to be loved. We crave acceptance. So, when we are confronted with criticism our instinct is to run away or to rise to the attack.  But it doesn’t need to be so.  Winston Churchill observed,  “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary.  It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

In fact, being given constructive feedback helps us to grow.  Praise for positives is well and good.  It lets us know we are on track, allowing us to become secure in what we have already achieved.  However, the calling of our attention to weaknesses shows us where to improve.  It stops stagnation.

Bill Gates has said, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” So, growth and improvement may not be comfortable, just think of puberty, but they are desirable.

When we receive critiques, therefore, take them not as attacks, but as nurture.  Analyse them for what is useful.  Apply the lessons, avoid the repeating of mistakes.  Think about it, if no one ever told you 6 x 5 wasn’t 28 we might have real problems with your architectural plans you give us.

Churchill’s observation (cited above) is enlightening.  This British wartime hero, and leader of his people once received a school report which read, “He is so regular in his irregularity that I really don’t know what to do. He had such good abilities but these would be made useless by habitual negligence. Constantly late for school, losing his books and papers and various other things.”  He took it to heart, he grew from it.  So can we.

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Thank You

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I remember a Bible class teacher, years ago, saying, “Thank God for everything you couldn’t do without tomorrow.” That is a big order.  “Thank you for my wife, thank you for my life, thank you for food, thank you for air . . . . “If we are honest such a list is endless.  But where do we in practical consideration draw the line?

In Muslim tradition, God instructed Muhammad and his followers to pray 50 times a day, but on meeting Moses and discussing the matter, Muhammad returned to God to ask for a reduction.  As a matter of practical consideration the figure of five was arrived at.  While a non-biblical story, it does say much of human nature.  “But God, we need to live, and get on with life, how can we be always praying?”  It hints of a reflection cited by preachers and others of people being “So heavenly minded, they are no earthly good.”  Surely there is an answer here.  Where is the balance?

As matter of personal reflection, it seems that the answer is not all about formal prayers (folded hands and on one’s knees) but of a prayerful, thankful appreciation of what God has provided us.  He is the giver of life, the preserver of life, and the bringer of salvation.  We can be thankful for that, without needing to give an itemised list.  This is not to say that the occasional mention of particular thanks is inappropriate. In fact, for some things (family, home, health) frequent thanksgiving is very appropriate.  But in the end, we stay in constant communication with our Lord.  Thanks is part of that.  I Thessalonians 5:18 reads, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In all circumstances, good – bad – and in between.  But also in all activities, formal prayer, passing thoughts addressed to God, when even quick thank you-s as the events of our days pass by.  “Pray without ceasing” is all about attitude.

Thank you, Lord, you have given us so much!

Padre

A Gate to the Past, A Gate Where Memory Lives

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege to become involved with the Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre  project.  This initiative recalls Jewish life of pre-WW2 Lublin in Poland.  The little museum-theatre complex was found in ruin but has been restored with care and respect.  It has become a bridge to our understanding of the lives of the Jewish community of Lublin’s past; and to modern Polish and Jewish communities.  This is fitting as Grodzka was the physical link to the Polish and Jewish quarters of Lublin in the decades, indeed centuries before the war.  The Jewish quarter is now gone, not only its people, but the physical structures themselves. The large car park below the gate was once a thriving community, the remembrance of that community has been preserved at Grodzka.

The museum itself, while small, has done its best to bring back the life of old Lublin. Recorded street sounds and songs can be heard, and photos can be viewed through “key holes” to the past,  providing touching reminders of the NN (no names) that the theatre seeks to once again remember.

The Theatr NN also provides educational programmes, and sponsors seminars and cultural events.  The works of Isaac Bashevis Singer are promoted, read, and performed, and the richness of Yiddish culture is celebrated.

The staff are dedicated, friendly, and energetic in their support to visitors and to the mission they have set themselves. This is a “must visit” site if in Lublin, as “No Names,” is becoming less of a reality, as this Project helps memory live.

Padre

Image result for the grodzka gate theatre centre