Category Archives: History

The Woman in Gold and a Woman’s Gold

Woman in Gold is one of those movies that’s hard to watch but too good to miss.  Based on the true story of Maria Altmann, who as an American octogenarian (who had fled to the U.S. as a Jewish refugee from Austria during World War 2) took on the Austrian government to recover her family’s artwork.  Maria Altmann (played by Helen Mirren) solicited for the help of  Randy Schoenberg (played by Ryan Reynolds), who was a young (and quite inexperienced) lawyer of Austrian-Jewish heritage as well as a family friend.  The movie traces their struggle to regain possession of Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was confiscated by the Nazis and later placed in Austria’s Belvedere Museum in Vienna.  The conflict lasted over ten years and went all the way to America’s Supreme Court (and beyond).  Woman in Gold was screened at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in 2015 and has been out in America for a couple of years, so if you love movies, you’ve likely already seen it.             Woman in Gold is very well done and I recommend it highly. But, today, instead of telling any more of the story, I want to point out that much of the debate centered around the legal documents: To whom did the painting really belong, and whose will should direct the final disposition of the painting? Certain details of the movie are not correct; most prominently, Maria Altmann did not leave her ailing father in Vienna. Maria said she would have never left her father; she waited until after he died of natural causes before she escaped. Still, the movie was a great success, and in fact, grossed over 60 million. Beyond that, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I eventually sold for 135 million. Now, that’s a lot of gold!!  My questions for us are two fold. First: Do we have clear wills made out in case of our unexpected death? I think everybody who owns anything should have a will, even if it’s just a hand-written document that’s been signed and witnessed at your local bank by a notary public and kept in your important papers.   Even more important, what are we doing with our “gold,” our most precious possessions? If you’ve never stopped to think this through and write out a will, please take the time to do so, even if your only precious possession at this point is a child. Someday, it might make much more of a difference than you’d ever imagine today.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).

 

 

Timely Thoughts from Charles Spurgeon’s on Hurricane Irma

For today— September 7—I read this encouragement in Charles Spurgeon’s classic devotional, Morning and Evening: “The Cruel Sea: We have no idea what sorrow may be on the sea this evening. Far away, a hurricane may be seeking the lives of sailors…” Spurgeon died over 120 years ago, but his words still ring true today!  Hurricane Irma is a deadly Category 5 tropical storm that’s furiously pounding it’s way toward Florida with an eye larger than Detroit and a mass that would more than engulf  the entire state of Michigan (where I live). Yesterday, the United Nations Secretary General spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, reported that “Across the western Caribbean, up to 37 million people could be affected by Irma,” and Meteorologist Phil Klotzback observed: “Forecasters say Irma is the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, outside the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean. It has also set a new all-time high for the amount of wind energy ever recorded over a 24-hour period.” (Speeds of over 188 mph were recorded.) At least ten people have died so far. In St Martin and St Barts there’s no drinking water or electricity, homes are destroyed and public buildings are unusable. Hurricane Irma passed directly over Barbuda, destroying their communication and making it impossible to determine the condition of the 1700 people living there.  With Guyana and Texas still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey just days ago (causing over 140 deaths in the Western Hemisphere and an estimated $188 billion in damages to the greater Houston metro area alone), the U.S. is hardly prepared to face another huge disaster.  However, unless Irma makes an unexpected turn, it’s possible that she could sweep right up the heart of Florida, affecting multiple millions from Miami through Orlando and even up to Charleston and Charlotte in the Carolinas. My sister, who lives in Orlando, is closing her hurricane shutters and buying up drinking water and food…along with everyone else who’s not heading north. We wondered if she should join the exodus along with the hundreds of thousands who’ve been told to evacuate Miami and Dade counties, but gas stations are out of gas and roads are clogged, so she’s decided to stay put and pray for “the best,” whatever that may be. Storms sometimes seem to develop out of nowhere. Irma started brewing up just this past week. In considering the probable disaster that this storm may bring, I think it’s a good time for all of us to be thinking about our own lives. What can we can to be prepared for the storms of life? There are a few safety measures we can take to prepare for physical dangers, but there are also some really important spiritual preparations we can make. Do you know the God who rules the storms? Have you made peace with Him? Are you trusting Him with your life, not only now but for eternity? If so, you will find comfort in this:Spurgeon concluded his devotional for today with these words, “There is a land where there is no more sea (Revelations 21:1), and our faces are steadfastly set toward it. We are going to the place the Lord told us about. Until then, we cast our sorrows on the Lord who walked the sea of old. Our Lord makes a way for His people through the depths of the sea.”

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock (Matthew 7:24-25).  Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me. Hear me, O Lord; for thy lovingkindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies. And hide not thy face from thy servant; for I am in trouble: hear me speedily.” (Psalm 69:1-2; 15-17).

(Information gathered from the Detroit Free Press, Miami HeraldAssociated Press, Charlotte Observer, ABC News, CNN, Wikipedia, and other online sources.)

 

The Struggle for A United Kingdom

A United Kingdom is the current retelling of a true story from 70 years ago, although I’d never heard it before. I totally agree with Rotten Tomatoes’ 83% rating and commentary: “Well-acted, solidly crafted, and all-around worthy, A United Kingdom presents an absorbing look at a singular true-life love story.”  If you, like me, weren’t around in 1947, you may not have heard the story before either, but it is a powerful testament to the enduring character of love. Sir  Seretse Khama was the heir to the throne of Botswana (then called Bechuanaland), Africa.  His parents died when he was only three, and Seretse became king at age four, although his uncle served as regent and brought him up like a son, sending him to the best schools, and eventually to Oxford and law school in England, where he became a barrister.     During this time (1947) he fell in love with a British woman, Ruth Williams, whom he married, despite extremely strong opposition from both sides of the family.  Their marriage and subsequent return to Bechuanaland sparked a furor among people on both continents,  because everyone assumed he would marry a woman from his tribe, the Bamangwato people.    A United Kingdom tells the story of the fierce love between Seretse and Ruth,              their unwillingness to bend for tradition or current cultural mores,                  and how they eventually won the hearts of their people. It also exposes the racism that was rampant in the Union of South Africa at that time, and the British weakness in failing to honor their word in order to curry favor with South Africa.  Although the events were compressed in the movie (it seemed like just a few years, when really the struggles lasted about 20 years), A United Kingdom gives a sober look into the economically-driven politics and racial tensions that have existed far too long (and into the present) between the continents and the races…and the fact that true love can (at least sometimes) “conquer all!” In order to protect his country and his marriage, King Khama gave up his right to be king, although he and Ruth returned to Bechuanaland where they eventually organized the Bechuanaland Democratic Party.  The movie is more about their love and early struggles, but I want to share just a little bit about their huge later success. Khama was the leadership and driving force in Bechuanaland’s independence from England, which was finally won in 1966. At that time, Bechuanaland was renamed Botswana. It was the third poorest country in the world, with virtually no infrastructure (7.5 miles of paved roads), and only 22 college graduates (worse, only 100 high school graduates!). Thanks to Khama’s integrity and brilliant leadership, he was elected as their first president and won every election until 1980, when he died suddenly of pancreatic cancer. During his tenure in office, Botswana became the fastest-growing economy in the world! The government negotiated the diamond mining businesses so that they retained 50% of the profits, which they poured into infrastructure, education, and health care. (Of course, if you’ve read The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, you’ll believe that more of that money should have been given to the workers; at least, I do.)   After Khama’s death, Vice President Quett Masire succeeded him in office,     but in 2008, Seretse’s oldest son Ian, was elected president of Botswana.  He and his (one and only) wife, Ruth, worked side by side until his death, and they are buried together in the Royal Cemetery in Serowe, Botswana.  Seretse Khama’s people loved him and compared to Nelson Mandela (although he didn’t receive such international acclaim). A United Kingdom is a beautiful story of love, honor, and courage, and a fitting example for each of us in our quest for following God in his promise to one day provide a united kingdom—not only in Botswana, but for the entire world!

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you
” (Matthew 6:33).

And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation,
and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ
” (Revelation 12:10).

(I took most of the photos while watching the movie; others are from Wiki)

Hurricane Harvey: A Truly Epic Storm

A blog follower from India asked what’s happening with the rain in America, so I thought maybe this would be a good day to share what’s going on with Hurricane Harvey. So far, it’s the biggest rainstorm in continental U.S. history, and it’s still raining, so we have no clue what’s yet to come. Hurricane Harvey started as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa on August 13, 2017, made landfall on August 26 at Rockport, Texas as a Class 4 hurricane, went back out to sea and has returned again this morning. Hurricane Harvey has unleashed over 50 inches of rain east of Houston, and it’s still raining this morning.  The record so far is 51.9 inches near Mont Belvieu, TX  (40 miles east of Houston). The downpour also caused one key reservoir to spill over, which has led to the largest flood in Houston’s history. Although isolated areas of Hawaii have had more rain, the overall effect of Harvey has had no rivals in American history, dropping about 3 feet of rain over most of the Houston region—some estimated 9 trillion gallons of water!— which affects more than five million people. According to the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin, the probability for such a storm is about one per thousand years! Last Sunday morning, the National Weather Service tweeted: “This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.”

One problem that’s gaining attention concerns the wildlife, which are swirling in the floods. There are hundreds of thousands of American alligators in Texas (some seen have been up to 8 feet long), 23 species of snakes (all of which can swim, but only 5 of which are poisonous), and billions of invasive fire ants (who are the ultimate survivors, because they band together by the thousands to produce massive flotillas up to several feet across). In addition, there are all the usual wildlife common throughout America, such as deer and coons, that haven’t been able to flag down a Noah’s ark for rescue and are trying to find safety. For example, under the Waugh Bridge near downtown Houston, a colony of 300,000 free-tailed bats have lost their home in the surging waters.

Of course, the most pressing issue is saving human lives. Fire fighters from around the country are arriving to help, and even civilians who own pleasure boats are coming to aid in the rescue efforts. I saw an interview of one man who said “I got tired of watching it from the comfort of my own home” and decided to help. He had rescued over 2 dozen victims last night and this morning. The death toll has confirmed 30 dead, but untold numbers are missing. One center was trying to prepare dry clothing and food for 5,000, but so far over 8,600 have come for help.

In the midst of all the horror and grief, there have been some bright spots. Several news reporters pointed out that people were responding with compassion towards everyone…regardless of race…no questions asked about creed! One man pointed out that the heart of America doesn’t come out “when there are pitched political shows, we see the heart and the true nature of our country when you have a tragedy strike like this. Everybody wants to help.” Praise God for that mercy!

However, the tragedy is still very much in the making. Harvey’s path inland is producing some bleak predictions for Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and even into the Ohio River Valley. Please stay tuned, and thank you to all who are helping and praying. The estimates of economic damages are up to 50+ billion dollars, and I’ve noticed that charities such as Samaritan’s Purse are accepting gifts as they try to respond to the crisis.

Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

 

Recapping The Unreformed Martin Luther

Written by an analytical German with the head of a theologian and the wit of a radio journalist, Andreas Malessa’s The Unreformed Martin Luther delves into the myths and materialities of one of the world’s most monumental men: Martin Luther. Malessa cleverly wrote this book in part to celebrate the 500th anniversary of this “Man of the Second Millennium” who ended the Middle Ages by posting ninety-five theses on the palace church door in Wittenberg. Wait—that was a myth!  In not one of Martin’s 121 volumes of collected publications, letters, table talks, sermons, and songs does he ever mention nailing his theses on the door. The fact of the matter was, when a professor (such as Dr. Luther) wanted to engage in public debate, he submitted his paper to the dean of the university. From there, history reveals that Luther’s handiwork ended up on the desk of the pope, who was not pleased.Do you know much about the life of Martin Luther? If you want a fascinating look into sixteenth century culture and church, I highly recommend reading The Unreformed Luther. I found myself shocked (many times) and touched (at many—but other—times) with the life and times of this mountain of a man. For instance, when Martin’s sister died suddenly (likely from SIDS), Martin’s mother believed it was the fault of a neighbor lady whom she had summarily beaten to death. What? How could that happen?? (Martin did write later: “There is nothing more powerful in the world as superstition, but before God it’s an abomination.”)I knew Luther opposed selling indulgences (and that is not a myth), but I had no clue how evil this practice actually was. We’re not talking about hoping for pardon from venial sins (like failing to feed the cat on time), but Markus Menner was absolved from perpetrated homicide! Tetzel himself was an adulterer who even trafficked indulgences for sins yet to be committed. No need to fear God’s judgment or look to him for mercy, for a (high) price, no sin was so egregious but that you could be assured the freedom to commit it without fear of retribution from God or man. This undermined the entire foundation of our faith and the gospel of salvation through Christ. I’m glad Luther had the guts to stand up against this ghastly blasphemy!However, Pope Leo X (who was in the midst of building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome) and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, did not appreciate Luther’s objecting to their financial and moral management styles, and so the hunt began. Luther was “kidnapped” by friends, who hid him in Wartburg Castle, where he spent his time feverishly translating the New Testament into German. Was it the first German translation? No, Malessa points out that there were already seventy-two partial translations, but Luther’s was the first complete translation. Oh, and did he really throw an inkwell at the devil’s head? No. Another myth. (If you don’t believe me, read the book!)Why did Luther go to all the trouble to write a Bible in German? Because he disbelieved the myth that salvation can be earned through indulgences or even good deeds, and he believed that if the people could have a copy of the Bible in their own language, they could read the truth for themselves. Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace to be received by faith in Jesus Christ as our redeemer from sin. This is clearly taught in the Bible (which even the Roman Catholic Church has recognized since the turn of this century through the writings of Pope John Paul II).Did Luther really say, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise!”? What is recorded as his response to being asked to recant is this: “…I am overcome in my conscience by the passages of Scripture and trapped in the Word of God. Therefore, I cannot and will not recant because it is neither safe nor healthy to act against the conscience. God help me. Amen.”  Fact or fiction? “Katharina von Bora, the nun who became his wife, was spirited away from her convent inside a herring barrel.” Fiction, but the facts surrounding their marriage totally charmed me, and one of the delights for me in reading The Unreformed Martin Luther was in learning that he was a devoted husband and father…the kind who changed diapers and washed them out! If you like touching romances, you’ll find one in this book!  🙂 In the course of demythifying Martin’s life, Malessa addresses over two dozen commonly held (and cherished) traditions surrounding the life of Luther, everything from “Did he eat while he preached?” to “Was he a boozer and a warmonger?” If you want to know, get the book! In fact, if you enjoy history and want a deeper look into the man behind the Reformation, this is an excellent resource! Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546, and 427 years later to the day, Alan and I were married after I waltzed down the aisle with “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” as my bridal processional. As Martin Luther’s great hymn has always been a favorite of ours, I would like to end this review with the words of his most glorious anthem.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
(~Martin Luther, inspired by Psalm 46, sometime between 1527-1529)

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing.
Our helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right man on our side,
The man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He.
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers
Not thanks to them, abideth.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill,
God’s truth abideth still.
His kingdom is forever…

(All photos from Wikipedia, except the first, which is—of course—a photo of the book!)

The Purpose of Memorials

Two days ago, in reflecting on the solar eclipse, I mentioned that we all like to commemorate special events by taking photos or keeping mementos to help us remember. Does that sound about right for you too? However, I don’t take pictures of miserable things; I take pictures of beautiful things and happy events I want to celebrate. It was in this light that I understood why many people want to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, and why it was draped in black yesterday (also as an expression of mourning for Heather Heyer).  One insightful reader sent me this note: “…the Confederacy has held a special power over this state. We’ve sort of changed history to make ourselves look better than we really were. We portrayed our losing generals as if they were triumphant in spirit or really on the right side of things – as long as we don’t emphasize the role that slavery played in the war. We might have lost on that point, but it [is] really about our right to be messed with and our right to live how we wanted to live without somebody from somewhere else to tell us how to live. We gave these men the status of heroes and placed their likeness on the footsteps of our courthouses. So every time we went to deal with a matter of the law, somebody white could look upon them and remember that they’re in the right and somebody black can look upon them and know that our history hasn’t died in our hearts. So, if we keep those statues on the steps of the courthouse, aren’t we really endorsing their legacy?”  What a wise reflection. Moving and true! I’ve been to Germany several times, but I’ve never seen a statue of Adolf Hitler, and I’m very glad for that! What if he were still revered in Germany? I would think that deep in their hearts, the German people still believe Hitler was right.  Part of admitting that we’re wrong about something is renouncing it…giving up our right to glory in it and mourning instead. In Germany, there are holocaust memorials so that we will never forget the evil that happened and continue to be horrified rather than attracted to anti-Semitism.  Similarly, there are many war memorials on the Normandy Coast of France. None of them house statues as such; they are filled with photos and information teaching about the devastating effects of war.  At Nagasaki, the memorials don’t exalt leaders, they portray the terrible suffering of the hundreds of thousands who died from the tragic bombings that ended the war, and they cry out for people to find peace. If we’re really sorry about what we’ve done wrong, we won’t be retelling the story and making heroes of those who led us astray. Right?  If I lived in Virginia, I would vote to remove the statues of the leaders who championed slavery. This morning I saw a map of where there are Confederate memorials. I don’t know the exact number, but it looked like over a hundred and possibly hundreds.  I thought back to visiting Tiananmen Square, where hundreds of protestors were killed in 1989. In the little shops all around the square, you can buy statues…of Mao Zedong!  He is still considered a great hero by many in Communist China (even among some Christian young adult Chinese students I know), although I was taught that he was responsible for millions of deaths and a brutal dictator. So, why do they revere him? And, what of Vladimir Lenin’s Mausoleum in front of the Kremlin in Russia? Millions visit every year, celebrating??? After the Iron Curtain came down in 1991, there was a movement to rebury Lenin’s body next to his mother’s grave, but Vladimir Putin “opposed this, pointing out that a reburial of Lenin would imply that generations of citizens had observed false values during 70 years of Soviet rule” (Wiki).

This, I think, is very telling. Memorials celebrate the values of the person being memorialized! Logically, statues of Confederate heroes are memorializing what they fought for, which was slavery. Do we want that commemorated or approved in our country? I hope we do not. To show respect for all races of people, particularly the African Americans who were enslaved, I totally support the idea of removing statues of heroes who stood against racial equality.

Spiritually, there is a personal parallel for each of us. Are we keeping photos or mementos from past events that were negative rather than positive influences on us? Are we “worshiping” icons that represent values we should not be endorsing? Are we beginning to remember “the good old days” of sinful pleasures that were in fact “evil days”? May we repent of all evil—past as well as present—and take glory in God alone, focusing our minds on: “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things: (Philippians 4:8).

But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:24).

(The photo of Stalin’s Mausolem at the Kremlin was taken by Andrew Shiva via Wiki; the rest our mine, taken in China, Japan, Germany, and France. Not all of them match the text perfectly, but they were the best representations for the ideas that I could find.)

 

 

Praise God for The Zookeeper’s Wife

If you haven’t seen The Zookeeper’s Wife  and aren’t totally over traumatized by studying World War 2,
please consider watching it. It’s the true story of Antonina and Jan Żabiński,
who were keepers of the Warsaw Zoo  and lived lives of incredibly risky heroism
to save Jewish people during Hitler’s regime.  Alan and I first discovered The Zookeeper’s Wife when it came out
as an audio book (from our public library, about ten years ago),  but it’s come to life in 2017 in an even more profound way
as a PG-13 historical drama. Often if you’ve already read the book, the movie isn’t very compelling
because it’s too changed from its original content,  but I felt like the movie version of The Zookeeper’s Wife
retained the authentic story line.  In the Holocaust Museum in Poland, the Żabińskis are listed
as some of the “righteous among the nations”  because they protected hundreds of Jewish people, using their home
as a safe house until safer housing could be found.  The role of Antonina is played by Jessica Chastain,
who’s been nominated twice for an Academy Award.  In one interview, I heard her say that ultimately, the story is “about hope,
about family, and about love. Love will always be there and you can find it.”

I praise God for the incredible bravery of those who will protect the innocent                                          in the unending fight for good over evil.        “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

(Photo Credits: Images 1, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15 are from various internet sources [some of which are listed or inscribed on the images]. The rest are mine, taken while watching the movie. There is one scene with gratuitous nudity in the context of the couple’s marriage, but it can be fast-forwarded without losing any critical dialogue.)