Category Archives: Museums and Galleries

The Birthday Club Ventures to Shipshewana

This fall’s birthday adventure took us all the way down to the golden corn fields of northern Indiana and a little corner of the world where time seems to have stopped about a hundred and fifty years ago!Shipshewana (affectionately called “Shipshe” by the residents) is home to one of America’s thriving communities of Amish folks.  There are about a third of a million Amish people living in the United States now, mostly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.  They are most easily recognized by their head coverings, simple, modest dress  and style of transportation, which is exclusively horse-drawn carriages. (They will not own—but will ride—on other forms of transportation, such as school buses for the children.) If you want to take a tour of the town, they offer horse-drawn buggy rides!Or, you can eat sitting in a buggy at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in the little burg of Middlebury, which is where the girls took me for wonderful, old-fashioned buffet lunch of great country (and Amish-style) cooking!If you go to northern Indiana’s Amish country, I definitely recommend enjoying some of their excellent food, but come hungry, because you will get very full!  🙂

Besides yummy food, there are all sorts of interesting shops to visit,  so save some time to explore their wonderful assortment of homey craft stores. They’re also famous for their simple but sturdy, hand-crafted furniture. Susan’s youngest daughter married a young man whose mom works in Shipshe, so we stopped by for a visit!I always think of Grand Rapids as having a lot of Christian influence, but for those of us who love Scripture, Shipshewana is a shopper’s paradise!

The focus of the afternoon was a visit to Menno-Hof, a museum of Mennonite and Amish history. Menno-Hoff is a warm combination of personally guided segments of the tour and  state-of-the-art audio-visual explanations.  As I have baptist/brethren roots, I felt a real connection with the “anabaptist” movement that eventually spawned the Mennonite and Amish communities, although it wasn’t clear to me from reading the information at the museum if they believe the Gospel…the wonderful good news of salvation by faith alone through Christ, or if they are somehow depending on their humility, modesty, good works, and self-denial and to qualify them for heaven.  (If you are Amish and read this, please feel free to explain the Amish position to us, will you? Do you believe you are saved by being a faithful disciple, or do you pursue God’s holiness as an expression of gratefulness for his salvation?) We couldn’t do the museum justice in less than an hour or two, and it would have been easy to linger for longer, although the girls had more in store yet!One popular myth about the Amish is that if a farmer has an eligible daughter, he paints his front gate blue, which means young men may come ‘a courting! Although this is apparently not really true, The Blue Gate Restaurant capitalizes on the long-standing fable, and they serve wonderful food…such as you could imagine a mother might serve up to a favored prospective beau for her daughter! It was the  perfect place to stop in for our birthday party, and to experience some of their popular peanut butter, custard, and pumpkin pies. Diet alert for sure!! In all, we had another spectacular day, and I can heartily recommend visiting Shipshe sometime if you’re looking for a quiet, cozy place to relax and reflect.    The Amish folks live plain, simple lives, but everything we saw was pleasant!   Even their public restrooms (like the Blue Gate’s) were clean and beautiful!    And, everywhere we looked, there was something to lift our hearts to God!            So, if you’d like to get away from the frenetic pace of life sometime,          consider an afternoon or weekend retreat in an Amish community!

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Hidden Treasury of Religious Art at Scrovegni Chapel…Lost in Padua

The baby was due Wednesday, and Michael predicted that it might be a photo finish between Baby Cakes and me as to who would arrive first. We had a “Plan B” in place while I was in transit from America just in case the baby came and Michael couldn’t meet me at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport. However, Mike was there smiling when I emerged from the baggage claim area. That was Friday.  By Saturday, Grace was more ready than ever to deliver, but Baby was unwilling to participate in a premiere showing, so Michael valiantly offered to take care of their four kids so Grace and I could visit the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, about a 40-minute drive from home. “Intrepid” is perhaps a modest understatement of Grace’s enthusiasm for life, and she’d really been wanting to visit this acclaimed masterpiece of Western Art before they left Italy, so we decided to take our (a?) big chance and go. Having GPS is one of the world’s finest exploration conveniences…when it works. The first time Alan and I visited Venice (about fifteen years ago), our GPS kept telling us to exit off the highway where there was no exit (all new construction), and we had a terrible time finding our way to our hotel. That particular terror was in the back of my mind when Michael warned us that the GPS wouldn’t really bring us to the right spot. He said we’d have to cross the Brenta River, so that we did. Then, our GPS said we were just three minutes from the chapel, but it didn’t seem able to direct us further, so we found a parking space (which is definitely a driver’s pot of gold  in this area of Padua) and began to walk. Many Italians know a little English, but few with enough facility to actually give adequate directions, and we quickly became completely disoriented on the twisty streets. I should have thought to take photos on my camera every time we turned a corner, but I didn’t. For future reference, if you’re traveling and unsure of where you’re going, take photos, and record where you’ve parked your car on your phone’s GPS if you have a smart phone. This works great for recording trail maps, too!At one point, we saw a young, professional-looking woman and approached her, thinking at last we’d get help. She’d never even heard of the Scrovegni Chapel (aka Cappella degli Scrovegni in Italian) and wondered if it might be downtown. After bumbling about like the blind leading the blind for half an hour, we finally found the chapel, which is part of the “Museo Civico of Padua.” Whew! The Scrovegni Chapel is filled with frescoes painted by Giotto in 1305 and is the forerunner to the exquisite works that Michelangelo painted two centuries later in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Although it’s virtually unknown relative to the world-famous Sistine Chapel, people do come from all over the world to visit, and we were give a twenty-minute slot with a small group in a carefully temperature and humidity-controlled environment to view the life of Christ as depicted in this chapel. (If you’re going to visit, reservations ahead are almost mandatory! We were late, but they graciously allowed us in with the next group. Thank you, Italy!)One of the most famous scenes is Joseph kissing Mary at their wedding. I was told that this is the “first kiss” ever depicted in Western Art (perhaps the world?).The Museo Civico of Padua is filled with literally thousands of pieces of artwork.                       They even have their own Pieta, by Antonio Bonazza.Grace and I spent hours marveling at all the gorgeous religious art, and it made us all the more amazed that so many people within a few blocks of this world-class treasury seemed to have no knowledge of its existence. How could that be? Did we fail to ask the right questions? Use the right words? It reminded me of my son Jonathan trying to find an evangelical church in Germany. He lacked the vocabulary to explain what he was looking for and so stumbled around for a long time before he found a very vibrant congregation of spiritually-minded believers.                 (Thankfully, he did, because that’s where he met his wife!) At any rate, we spent a glorious day standing in reverential awe of God as we experienced this beautiful chapel/museum hidden away in the heart of Italy.I fear that all too often Americans (myself included) fail to help others find their way to Christ. It’s easy to be like those busy Italians who lived and worked outside the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel but were oblivious to its existence. They never visited, had no clue what was inside, and couldn’t tell anyone how to get there…yet people from all over the world are seeking.  Can we open our eyes to the gospel message, believe it, receive it, and share it with others? For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).

(P.S.—The end of this story will have to be told next time. Do you think we found our way back to the car? Before Grace went into labor?  Tune in next week… 🙂  )

Who Needs to Travel the World? Six Reasons Why I Love Meijer Gardens

When our family or friends come to Michigan, there are a few places I always recommend, but in Grand Rapids my favorite place to visit is—without a doubt— Meijer Garden. So, for those of you who may be looking for something very special to do in Michigan this summer, consider visiting Meijer Garden. Why? #1. The flowers are always spectacular! No need to travel to Holland to see tulips, or to Giverny near Paris to find a wistful arbor of wisteria. #2. The Japanese Gardens are stunning.Meticulously designed and artful in every detail. Restful and serene.  Filled with quiet spots to chat or sit and be creative! And, if you want a little taste of cherry blossoms in the spring,
there’s no need to visit Washington D.C. or Asia anymore!  #3. Lena Meijer’s Tropical Conservatory is like a breath of warm air.  Even when it’s snowy outside, there’s a world of warmth and beauty within. #4. Butterflies bloom during the barrenness of late winter
through early spring,
so you don’t have to go to Central America for a taste of the tropics!  #5. The Sculpture Park has become an international destination! With more than 200 sculptures in their permanent collection, you no longer have to go to Europe to see the work of famous sculptors! #6. The Lena Meijer Children’s Garden is a total delight!  Kids can get soaked…but you don’t have to! Or, they can have tea parties  while you rest in the shade and enjoy catching  up with each other. You don’t have to go to the Caribbean to take your kids sailing,  and if the boat capsizes, it’s no big deal!Also, no need to go to Africa to let your kids feel like big time explorers!

I was going to list ten reasons, but this post is already too long, so I’ll try to finish the others later this week. Meanwhile, happy planning as you think about your summer. Of course, while I’m promoting Michigan, three of my sons are vacationing in Italy together…but what can I say?  The other three and my daughter’s family are visiting us here in Michigan, so it’s all good!  As Robert Louis Stevenson would say, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness,
and shall sing of thy righteousness
”  (Psalm 145:7).

Where Are You?

(The following devotional was written by my friend, Lisa Walkendorf, and I think it’s a great reflection to begin our journey into the new year. As Pastor Rick taught me, “Wherever you are, be all there!”)

We spent a day touring Athens, Greece before flying home from a mission trip recently. We saw amazing sights and marveled at history mixed within current culture… current sites built along historic ones.   Ruins were visible in the midst of town.   We (like many others) came as tourists to study and reflect on the past.  It is incredible that items from the 5th century BC have survived  and are still preserved for us today! We marveled as we toured the archeological museum.   When we reflected on the day, our group shared what most impressed us,
and there were certainly many options to choose from:  *The Acropolis   *Mars Hill where Paul preached his sermon to the Athenians, noting their worship to “the unknown God” and introducing them
to the known God, who created everything (read more in Acts 17:16-33).  *The delicious, cultural food *The archeological museum  and ancient artifacts.   * All the sites in town.   *And, fellowship with our team members!

One friend shared that she took a picture that impressed her most, but it was not a pretty picture!   It was simply a sign giving directions that stated: You are here. She reflected on the literal reminder “You are here.”  This is where we are.  This is the only life we get to live.  There’s not some other life to live than the one we have.  Some day people may be looking back to this time frame, perhaps viewing it through a museum lens of what was important to us culturally, relationally, and spiritually.

We are here now.  We have this time to love family and friends, to reach out to others and share the good news about Jesus.  It can be helpful to reflect on the question, “Where are you?”  and to be reminded, “You are here!”

Colossians 4:5-6 (NIV) – “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Psalm 90:12 (NIV) – “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Where are you today?

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).

 

 

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.)

 

 

The Inimitable Biltmore Estate

At 178,926 square feet, the Biltmore—the Vanderbilt family’s 8,000 acre estate— ranks as America’s largest privately owned home, and I’ve wanted to visit for about 50 years, particularly after hearing the rumor that we’re related by marriage to the Vanderbilts (many cousins-removed ago). In the early 2000’s (at the height of our family’s musical ministry), I was negotiating with the Biltmore to sing gospel music there one Sunday afternoon           (which they still do, by the way),  although one of my closest friends ended up planning her wedding for that same weekend, and being in the wedding preempted everything else! Nevertheless, the mystique of America’s grandest estate nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains hovered like mist in the back of my mind, and last May, after visiting many of the gorgeous châteaux along the Loire River in France, several of which were the French Renaissance inspirations for the Biltmore,    such as  Château de Blois,        Château de Chenonceau,         and Château de Chambord,         I realized that a trip to the Biltmore was still on my unconscious bucket list. So, when we attended a conference this May just 15 miles from the Biltmore, you can imagine my excitement to see this romantic tribute  to America’s Gilded Age!  Yesterday I shared photos from the gardens (in conjunction with thoughts for pondering how to overcome your past and fulfill your potential),  but today I want to share a few photos from the inside of this grand home,  which would have made a worthy location for Downton Abbey! The Biltmore Estate has 250 rooms,  including 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces,  a dining room table that can seat up to 64 guests,   and many novelties for the 19th century,  such as  a 70,000-gallon heated indoor swimming pool  and one of the nation’s first bowling alleys to be installed in a private residence. Only half of George Vanderbilt’s collection of 22,000 books can fit in his library, and while we were visiting, their was a special exhibition of costumes  and information related to movies that have been made  from some of the many first-edition classic books owned by the Vanderbilts. The Vanderbilt family still live in and operate their estate,  but unlike many European grand estates and palaces, the Vanderbilts allow visitors to take photographs of all the home’s treasures,  including many beautifully preserves tapestries  and gorgeous paintings.  On a sunny day, like the day we visited,  one could easily spend their entire day touring the home,  enjoying lunch at one of their stable-turned restaurant venues,  and exploring their vast gardens.  Although we loved visiting, Alan and I both left thinking
how happy we are to live in our snug little “Tanglewood Cottage.”  I’m not even sure “I want a mansion, just over the hilltop.” Do you?  Actually, I don’t care where I live, just as long as it’s with Jesus!

Jesus said, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

“Mansion Over The Hilltop”

“I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined.

Don’t think me poor or deserted or lonely
I’m not discouraged I’m heaven bound.
I’m but a pilgrim in search of the city
I want a mansion, a harp and a crown.

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we will never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold.” (Ira Stanphill)

(All photos, except the four related to our trip to France last May, were taken this May on our visit the the Biltmore Estate, near Ashville, North Carolina.)