I don’t know where we would all be without our animals. Most people own and care for quite a few pets over their lifetime. They may be horses that people ride, or humbler animals such as the many dogs, cats, or birds with all their incredible variety of breeds. Or some get more exotic pets such as snakes. And it is certainly enjoyable to watch the various animals in zoos or better yet, in the wild, if you have that opportunity. We currently have a border-collie and Australian-shepherd mixed dog, whom we have ironically named Dixie. We named her that to remind us of the southern United States where we have our roots, but the name is ironic because we got her in New York. We got her from the Long Island office of the North Shore Animal League which, according to their website, is the "world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization." They had a wonderful process that was compassionate for the animals and offered the best opportunity for us to find the right dog for our family. And now, Dixie has become like a member of our family. We get great enjoyment out of her, and she seems to be very happy here in Kentucky with a big yard for her to run in to her heart's content.
My love for animals, though, does not stop with the family pet. I have come to be very fond of the humblest of creatures, the birds. I love their multitude of colors, songs, living habits, even attitudes, etc. We have a small feeder in back of our house that is always ready with suet, seed cakes, and a seed mix that appeals to the broadest variety of birds. I have not gone so far as to catalogue them, but I certainly would not criticize others for doing so, because I fully understand how you can become so enthused with these beautiful creatures. The hobby of bird-watching was recently highlighted in a hit movie The Big Year, in which the characters competed with each other to see the greatest number of birds possible in a single year. I came by my love of animals early in my life. My family always seemed to have a dog or a cat around when I was growing up. For a child, having a pet is almost a necessary rite of passage, teaching them how to care for these humble creatures, and giving them a friend who will always be there.
School events even encouraged this love of animals. I remember going on a school field trip in junior high to watch a movie at the local theater. The film was “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” released in 1972. Our wise teachers decided that we would all benefit from this unusual, morality tale. It was directed by the Italian great Franco Zeffirelli and was based on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. In the film, Francis is a spoiled rich young man who has a religious experience that I assume was salvation. After this encounter with God, he changed dramatically, rejecting all material wealth and learning to live his life entirely by love. One of the objects of his love was the animals he encountered. This is one of the things that, historically, Francis was known for, which is why he is now called as the patron saint of animals. Animals have certainly made our world a little brighter and more interesting. They are one of the wonderful gifts that God has blessed this earth with to make life enjoyable.
But while God wants us to enjoy these creatures, we are reminded in scripture not to make them the object of our spiritual worship. In Romans 1, we are told that doing so would be exchanging the truth of God for a lie. But this is exactly where some religions have taken man, to the worship of nature and the things in nature rather than worshiping the powerful, amazing God that made all these things. Doing this is an insult to the God who deserves our worship and praise for all the wonderful gifts that He has put into nature. Moreover, even if it was not an insult to God, it is a dead end, a futile act to worship nature. There is no power in nature to help us, and nature has no soul that we can interact with on a spiritual level. Only God can help us and truly interact with us in a real relationship.
I pray that you will all experience a wonderful and fulfilling relationship with our Creator through His Son Jesus, and that you will be blessed with the enjoyment of the many animals that He created for our comfort, pleasure, and help in our daily work.
American football star Robert Griffin III has captured the attention and admiration of many fans in the states. He’s the quarterback of the Washington Redskins who are based in the Washington, D.C., area. Of course, the quarterback is a key position, providing leadership that pulls the team together and, many times, sets the attitude that will determine whether they are winners or losers. His play has been phenomenal. So far, he has thrown for 3,100 yards. There are only a few players that reach this level. For you soccer or (non-American) football fans, this is akin to a player scoring 80+ goals in a season (such as the phenomenal season Lionel Messi is having this year). But RGIII, as he is called in the press, is a rare double-threat. He has also rushed for 752 yards, making it very hard for opposing teams to defend against him, since they can never guess what he will do on a given play, and since he has options even on a broken play. Thanks to his athletic prowess, he has already earned endorsements from major companies like Gatorade, Adidas, Subway, EA Sports, and Nissan. Moreover, his jersey is the top-selling jersey in all of the National Football League.
But perhaps what really makes him so popular with fans is his humble attitude. He doesn’t have the cocky, prideful attitude that you sometimes see in people of great talent and fame. He is well known among his fans for his humility and unusual maturity for a young man in his early 20s. In a recent interview, he was asked if he feared anything. His answer revealed a lot about who the man is. He said, “I fear God.” Besides being a man of faith, a recent article about him attributed his good character to his upbringing and education. He was born in Japan to two military parents, who apparently raised him with some of the same values that they lived by in their profession. Moreover, he polished off that experience with a sound education at Baylor University, a Christian college in Waco, Texas. All in all, he is a very well rounded young man, apparently a Christian, and highly respected in his profession. These things are much more important than simple material success.
There are so many Christians throughout the world, in all walks of life. They are usually very noticeable because they live their lives differently. They are a little bit kinder, a little bit more patient, and always a little more compassionate. These are marks of the Lord Jesus that they follow. You cannot underestimate the power of a good example. It goes far beyond the simple sharing of a few scriptures or a verbal witness. Although the scripture tells us to always be ready to explain why we are the way we are (1 Pet. 3:15), we should also live out those principles so that people can see for themselves the truth that is in us and know that we are the real deal before we even tell them. A life actually lived by Christian principles can have a far more profound impact than simple words, able to touch people in ways that words cannot. Moreover, it is so important for us to develop ourselves the best we can, adding to our skills, education, and knowledge throughout our lives so that we can have more to offer the world and can reach more people because we have more experiences to share and are useful to God in so many more ways. I recently saw an episode on television of the reality series Meet the Hutterites. This Christian sect that is the focus of the series lives in Montana and tries to strictly follow the same formula for living as their ancestors that settled here from Germany over a hundred years ago. In this one particular episode, one of the young women being followed by the camera discussed the idea of going to a local college for courses, but the other people in the group adamantly discouraged her from going, asking the question, “What do you need an education for?” I am not standing in judgment of these people, but the answer to this question should be obvious to those who seek wisdom rather than the thinking of the world. With an education, you are more useful to God and the people of the world you are supposed to be serving.
I pray that you all will have the courage to chase your dreams and develop your knowledge and wisdom so that you will be the most useful instruments in God’s hands that you can possibly be.
I pray you will indulge me for a second posting today. I have long wanted to write a poem that offers a counterpoint to the famous Invictus, by William Earnest Henley. While Henley did not necessarily intend for the poem to be taken as a rejection of God, unfortunately, anyone reading it would have to come to that conclusion. The reader can see self-reliance in the poem, but the poem goes a step further into a naturalistic or humanistic world-view that does not include God, which is, of course, a foolish path in this difficult life. I have posted Invictus below and my answer to his poem beneath that.
by William Earnest Henley, 1875
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
by Del Chambers, 2012 ©
Out of the light that illuminates,
The pitch-black sin that stains my soul,
I thank the one, eternal God,
For saving my wretched, wounded soul.
In life’s brutal circumstance,
I have often wept and cried aloud.
Under the rain of life’s harsh blows,
My only solace, in prayer, head bowed.
Beyond the suffering of this bleak life,
Lies my punishment or reward.
For I shall be charged to give account,
For all my deeds, to a righteous Lord.
It ever matters how strait the walk,
That we all purpose to our way;
But in the end, our deeds fall short;
By Jesus, only, may we be saved.
I will pick back up on the topic of my own personal witness at a later time. I thought this topic was more compelling and useful to you.
In yesterday’s posting, I did not intend to put pressure on anyone about their witness. I simply wanted to encourage people to think about their witness and their stories, and I wanted to offer an opportunity to post their stories if anyone should want to take me up on it. There is absolutely no pressure; it was simply a friendly offering. I have yet to meet any person that didn’t have something interesting to tell about themselves and their life. We tend to think that our lives are not that interesting, but as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so also is the value of our various stories. I recently watched a documentary that was proof of this truth. I found the film on Netflix. It was titled Life in a Day. This 2011 film was a project that pulled together literally thousands of clips of people’s lives from a single day in 2010, showing how they lived throughout the planet. It was intended to be a time capsule, a snapshot of our lives, to show future generations what it was like to be alive in various places around the globe on July 24, 2010. When I saw the title and read the concept, I was instantly hooked, and the film delivered everything that I expected, capturing a multicultural, multiethnic, multinational, and multi-geographical view of what a normal, daily life is like, with breathtaking diversity, for so many disparate people around the globe.
It was interesting to see what was important to each person in the clips. You could see so many themes that bind us together as human beings, regardless of where we are from. We all have many of the same dreams and ambitions, many of the same needs to get through life, a requirement for food, shelter, and safety, a need for love and family, and a need to live a life that is meaningful. If there was only one thing that you could bring away from this film, I believe it would be the realization of how alike we all are across this great planet, regardless of what we look like and how or where we live. There are so many deep, profound experiences that are common to us all. The most meaningful of these experiences for me has been parenting our children. I have had the joy, in recent years, of raising four teenagers. I know, I’ve heard all the ridiculous stories about what happens when they reach that plateau, but I have never listened to the supposedly wise people who project negativity into all things. I have found that there is no great mystery to parenting. You simply get out of it what you put into it.
If you pour lots of love and time into your children, then you will reap that love back in the many joyous experiences you will share with them as they figure out what life is about, and you will reap the joy of sound relationships as they grow older. If they sense you respect them, then they will respect you. Certainly you can command respect by force, but as a leader of people for most of my adult life, I have found that it is always better to treat people with love and respect, so that you will not have to force them to follow you; they will do so willingly. Perhaps the worst thing you can do with children is to be too controlling, wanting to dictate every detail of their lives. If you are too controlling or too critical, you will damage the relationship you have with them, and they will then begin to relish the day that they can have you out of their life. The very opposite of these attitudes is humility. Humility goes a long way in raising children. Be willing to admit to your mistakes and say you are sorry. If you want them to be well-rounded people that get along well with others in school and eventually at work in their various professions, you must show them that it is okay to admit to mistakes and to take responsibility for them. This is truly the only way to move beyond your mistakes. Be willing also to laugh at your mistakes. By doing this, you will teach your children that it is okay to make mistakes, that you should even expect to make mistakes, and that such mistakes are not the end of the world. We are all frail and flawed at one time or another, so it is best to be honest about our weaknesses. Moreover, once we have enough humility to laugh at ourselves and our mistakes, Satan does not have the big stick of pride to beat us with and control us.
I pray that each of you enjoy sound and loving family relationships and that God will repair those that are damaged.
Theologian, writer, and Christian apologist Josh McDowell has written much about the solid and bountiful evidence of our faith. You have seen me mention one of his works, More than a Carpenter, in my previous blogs. Every Christian should read this short book. It breaks down the major arguments for the truth of our faith in a very accessible way. In this book, he also relates that the most profound and forceful evidence of our faith is our own personal witness. Whether we realize it or not, all of us have a very compelling story to tell. Moreover, our particular stories are each infinitely unique and uniquely effective in touching the lives of certain others. Your story can touch lives that perhaps no one else or nothing else can reach. This is why it is good to spend some time thinking about your witness, perhaps even writing it down, not only your salvation story, but also the various trials and victories throughout your life. As you write, don’t be afraid to rephrase and rewrite until you get the story told in as perfect a way as possible. I would even invite those of you who feel so led to send your stories to me so that they can be posted on my blog or web page. You never know who else among my readers might be encouraged by your story. If you feel so led, please send your stories to my g-mail account at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would not want to mislead any of you, my readers. I know that, often in my writing, there is a triumphant tone, and indeed there have been many triumphs in my life that I thank God for and know that I owe to Him and to His power. But I write what I feel led to write by the Holy Spirit, so there are times in which I do not feel in my heart the great optimism that is in my writing. Like any normal person, I have my struggles and days of deep doubt as God has put me through various trials to purify my faith. It seems like so many more of these dark days have occurred lately, although certainly not as dark as the first days after I returned from Iraq. Nonetheless, I would ask for your prayers, just as I pray for you. I have told bits and pieces of my story along the way as I have posted my daily blogs. But I thought perhaps this would be a good time to tell a little more of my own story.
I grew up in a Baptist preacher’s home, so I heard the good news of Jesus very early. I was subsequently saved when I was about 8 years old. I still remember the way I felt that Sunday. As I sat in the pew, and the altar call was given, I felt a tremendous struggle within my soul about whether to respond and walk down that aisle to proclaim that I had asked Jesus into my heart. I imagine the struggle was a spiritual one as Satan tried to talk me out of it. And I remember, as I thought about my sin, I sensed a tremendous weight upon my shoulders, the weight of my sin. When I finally forced myself to stand and walk out into the aisle, yielding to the call of Jesus, that great weight seemed to roll off of my shoulders, and I felt free as I had never felt before. I also I felt a feeling of purity rushing through me, which had to be the Holy Spirit; I’ve felt that feeling many times since, especially when I was in witnessing situations. Those first days after my salvation and my subsequent baptism, I truly felt the Holy Spirit strongly within my heart and soul. I felt compelled to witness to my friends on the playground during recess, telling them about Jesus and their need for salvation. I felt like I had received a tremendous gift and couldn’t wait to tell others about it.
These feelings didn’t last, though. As I grew into my teen years, I went through some times of great struggle.
More on this tomorrow.
John Milton, a 17th century English writer, is believed to be one of the greatest writers of the English language. His greatest work Paradise Lost, a blank verse poem about the fall of man, was written when he was completely blind. He composed the verses in his head and then dictated them to various aides. He followed that with various other works, to include a sequel to his masterpiece, Paradise Regained. Likewise, Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the greatest in his field as well. Born December 17, 1770, he began to lose his hearing later in the 18th century, and by the turn of the century, he was completely deaf. Despite his loss of hearing, he continued to compose, conduct, and perform long after losing his hearing. He struggled mightily with other illnesses besides the hearing loss, but it was the loss of his hearing that affected him most since he could not enjoy the sounds from his greatest passion, music. At one point, he even considered suicide but decided against it, wanting to throw himself into his music and find purpose in life through his great works.
There is something amazing in the human spirit that keeps people going after having critical faculties taken from them and after facing such tremendous tragedies in their lives. Even so many of the greatest of us in the arts, music, and literature were tortured souls that still went on to aspire to greatness. Vincent van Gogh was such a tortured soul. The great Dutch impressionist painter seems to have struggled most of his life with poor physical and mental health. At one point during his young adulthood, he had planned to be a minister. When he failed the entrance exam to a seminary, he took a missionary position in a small town where he vowed to live as poorly as the people he was serving. However, this life of poverty was criticized by the local clergy. They claimed that he was bringing dishonor to the dignity of the clergy. Van Gogh then fled that town, moving back in with his parents as he would do off and on. At one point, his father became concerned about his son’s mental health and tried to have him committed. Van Gogh left his father’s house soon after that and seemed to be constantly on the move for the rest of his life. He continued to struggle greatly with his physical and mental health, leading him to reject God in spite of the early fervor in his life. His mental health steadily deteriorated, leading to the famous incident in which he cut off his left ear and offered it to a prostitute that he had befriended. Eventually, distraught about his difficulties, he would take his life by shooting himself in the chest with a revolver. Tragic as his life was, and tragic as his death was, in spite of all his difficulties, he has produced some of the most beautiful paintings in western art.
There seem to have been so many great people who struggled with misery in their lives, but have gone on to still make a tremendous mark on the world. I believe that it is because God has put so much ability into mankind. In spite of our fallen state, and our continued sin, which continually makes us seek out God, there is yet something so strong in the human spirit, and there is such great capability in each of us so that any one of us can aspire to greatness. The Bible tells us: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” (Psalm 8:3-5). Man is God’s crowning achievement in creation. Moreover, God put so much loving work into man that, despite the worst that life can throw at us, we can still aspire to do something great in this world. Why did God put so much into man? He did so because of love. God loves us with a love so great that He even gave His greatest treasure to redeem us back to Him; He gave of His only, most beloved Son.
I pray today that you will remember the tremendous love that God has for you. If there had only been you, only one person in the entire world that needed redeeming, make no mistake about it, God would have sent His Son just for you.
This posting picks back up on the subject of travel and finishes it.
In the continuation of this trip, there was just one more mishap. This one was fit for an episode of Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean. I had parked the van in a commercial parking garage that evening. When I came out to retrieve the van the next day, we were unable to find a way to pay for the parking and get a validated ticket that would get us out the exit in the proper way. After several minutes of looking for a pay machine or an attendant, which we could not find, we figured out that we were stuck. There was no way to validate the ticket that we could discern, and there was no sign explaining how to do so, and no one was around to ask for help, if we could even figure out what to say in French to explain our dilemma. So, with my father-in-law as an accomplice, we watched a couple of cars driving into the entrance where the automatic-gate-arm would lift as they punched a button on the machine there. We figured out that there was nothing to prevent one from going out the same way, so long as the gate-arm was lifted by a mere press of a button by one person at the machine, while the driver (me) positioned the getaway vehicle immediately in front of the gate-arm awaiting the precise moment. So we successfully executed our diabolical plan, driving the wrong way out the entrance and were thus able to continue our journey across France, although now we were dangerous outlaws who didn’t pay their parking fees. We saw a few more sites on this trip before going back to our home in the Stuttgart area of Germany where I was stationed, our last stop being Geneva, Switzerland, where we visited the United Nations offices.
We took numerous other trips to France, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Then there were a couple of package tours we took to Great Britain and Israel before I got orders taking us back to the States. Then, after a few different stationings in the States, I was able to wrangle one more tour to Germany. This time, we were stationed in the Heidelberg area, and this time, we had four children. We went back to a lot of the same places so that the children could experience those wonderful places. And, this time, we added trips deeper into Italy, to Venice, Pisa, and Rome, and trips to Eastern Europe to Poland and the Czech Republic. Then, perhaps our favorite trip was one through Scandinavia, including a very memorable drive across the highlands and fjords of Norway where we saw some of the most stunning scenery we’d ever seen, and the children got to play in the snow at one of our stops, even though it was May. The snow pack in that part of Norway was so deep that I assume it took the good part of the summer to all melt down if all of it ever completely melted down. After driving across the country, we arrived in the picturesque town of Bergen on the coast where we took a ferry back down to Denmark, then drove home to our house in Heidelberg. It was a little early in the year for the midnight sun, but we did see the sun shining at 1100 in the evening as our ferry pulled out of Bergen.
Travel has given us some of the most wonderful memories that we have, and it has broadened our minds by experiencing so many other cultures and meeting people all across this world made by our loving Creator. Once you travel to see so many wonderful places and meet so many interesting people, you get a greater appreciation for just how creative God is. You can’t help but arrive at the conclusion that God must love us a great deal. He could have made the world much more plainly, but He didn’t. He made the planet with so many different types of geography and a multitude of different plants and animals and so many interesting things to eat, so that His crowning creation, mankind, could be inspired and could enjoy life, and most of all, so that people could realize what a great and amazing God He is and how greatly He loves us. In Romans 1, we are told: “19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them [the world of creation], for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” God has made nature so that it speaks of Him every time we look at all the beauty and complexity of Nature, so that even people in the most remote and inaccessible corners of the Earth can know that there is a God. Then it is up to them whether they will acknowledge Him, because God always gives us a choice whether to seek Him out and follow Him or to seek our own way and our own gods.
I pray this day that you will all experience the tremendously loving Creator who loves you more than anyone else will ever love you and even loves you more than you can love yourself. And I pray that you will come to a covenant relationship through His son Jesus or that you will experience a deeper relationship with Him if you already have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.
5 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Since this is Christmas Day, I thought I’d take a departure from the normal topics and write about the One Whom we celebrate this day. Years ago, I bought a small framed print that I have placed on the wall of every office I have worked in since. The print is about our Lord. I have always put it in a prominent place so that everyone that came into my office would know what my life is about and would know the reason why I am the way I am, a man who puts love and service into everything that he does. I follow the example and teachings of a Man Who was like no other man and is surpassed by no other man in His greatness. The print which still remains on my wall reads this way: “One Solitary Life: He was born in an obscure village; He worked in a carpenters shop until He was thirty; He never held an office; He never had a family or owned a house; He didn’t go to college; He had no credentials but Himself; He was only thirty three when the public turned against Him; His friends ran away; He was turned over to His enemies and went through a mockery of a trial; He was nailed to a cross between two thieves; While He was dying, His executioners gambled for His clothing; He was laid in a borrowed grave; Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today, He is THE figure of the human race; All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that every sat, all the kings that ever reigned, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life.”
He is the greatest man ever to live and the greatest that ever shall live. He is unsurpassed in wisdom, love, and greatness. I praise that Man who, as a God, walked this very earth to experience all the sorrows and pain of this life so that He could be the perfect Counselor, the perfect Priest, the perfect Healer, and the perfect Friend. He didn't have to come, and He didn't have to die. He did both by choice out of a love that is greater than any other love now and forevermore.
I pray that you all will remember and personally experience the Friendship and the Lordship of this Man Jesus today and for the rest of your life. May His peace shine in your life and the lives of those around you this day we celebrate the day that He came into this world.
My first trips in and around Europe were very cautious. At 18, I wasn’t confident enough yet to just throw caution to the wind and do big bold things, accepting whatever happened. But I gradually worked my way up to that point. My first forays were simple ones to the local towns that I could reach on my bike whenever I was off duty, taking advantage of the many bike and walking paths that you will find everywhere in Germany. I also ventured out to Nuremburg, which was accessible by a military-run bus. My buddies and I signed up for a trip sponsored by the chapel one-time, going to the beautiful, medieval fortified town of Rothenburg. If you’ve seen any brochures for travel to Germany, this town is always pictured. Then, we made one very crazy testosterone-and-beer fueled weekend rail-hop to Regensburg which sits on the famed Danube River. Moreover, there were numerous trips to local bars and the ubiquitous wine or beer festivals to try to meet German girls, sometimes successful, but more often not.
And as if we didn’t have enough traveling on our own, there were the countless trips that were forced on us when we had to convoy our unit’s vehicles to conduct training at various places around Germany. You generally didn’t like going to the field, but some field exercises were different. They were less of drudgery and more of an adventure. Each year we had the Return of Forces to Germany (REFORGER) exercises, which were a very big deal with many thousands of soldiers and units criss-crossing Germany for a few weeks for training on our war plans (for the defense of Germany against possible Russian invasion during the Cold War). REFORGER would always put us into the fields around some quaint, picturesque little town where the locals welcomed us, wanting to meet and talk to the soldiers, and to share beer or wine with us on the sly. My two years were over practically in the blink of an eye. I loved the experience enough to ask for a second tour many years later after I had left active duty, gotten my degree, and earned a commission through ROTC to reenter service as a second lieutenant.
For this second tour, I had someone to share it with, which made all the difference in the world. My wife and I had been married for two short years at that point, and we didn’t have children yet, so we took maximum advantage of our travel opportunities, sometimes on the spur of the moment because we had the time and there was nothing else to do. We made a few forays down to Garmisch at the foot of the Alps where we rode the long train up to the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. The funny thing about this trip is that we stepped out of the train at the top and practically walked right into a buddy of mine from ROTC in college, Mike Steigler, who was also now on active duty as an armor officer and stationed in Germany as well. I was amazed at this chance occurrence. Probably just another example of God’s impeccable timing. My wife and I also made gradually bolder trips skiing a couple of times and driving into the Italian Alps when my wife’s family came over to visit. The foray through the Italian Alps took us through some stunningly beautiful scenery of craggy, snow-tipped mountains and gushing, mountain streams and waterfalls. While the trip was generally very enjoyable, we had a few mishaps that were tailor made for the National Lampoon Vacation movies. If you’re going to travel, be prepared to look stupid at some point, and have the humility to get out of it as best you can with as much good humor as possible. People make mistakes, and a stranger in a strange land can make all sorts of hilarious blunders while meaning well. But all the people we encountered in our travels were good-natured and patient. Attempting the language persistently, remaining humble, respecting whatever customs and traditions of which you are knowledgeable, and being open-minded to new experiences goes a long way toward making new friends.
In our foray over the Italian alps, we ended up driving down through the south of France, along the Mediterranean coast. In a small town there, I misjudged the clearance of the van I was driving and side swiped a commercial van that was parked where it shouldn’t have been. God was surely with me then because I didn’t speak a lick of French, having put all my effort into my German skills, and no one around spoke English or German. I had one of those guide books that gives you the basic phrases to get around, find a hotel, eat, and find the bathroom, none of which fit the situation. So, I and the driver whose van I had hit made the best of the situation with improvisational sign language. I figured out that he wanted us to go to the police station with him, where he would report the accident. I had visions in my head of being locked up in small dark French jail cell with only bread and water to eat and nothing but Jerry Lewis movies to watch for entertainment when they would let me out of my cell, if I was lucky. But, as I said, God was with me that day. I didn’t understand any of what the driver and the gendarme (police) officer at the station were saying, but I figured out enough by body language and tone of voice that the driver was being blamed for the accident rather than me because he had been parked in a no parking zone. You cannot imagine the sense of relief. And thankfully, I had purchased the extra insurance from the rental place, which I usually decline knowing that my regular car insurance will cover it. But with language issues and two different countries, this insurance ended up being my salvation. I still remember the look on the face of the rental attendant a few days later when I showed her the sizable scrape about two inches deep and a couple of feet wide all down the side of the van. But I had purchased their insurance, which promised to cover all accidents, so there was nothing she could say.
We finish on this topic tomorrow. I pray for a joyous Christmas to all my readers. I pray that you will find the peace and good will of God in your life through Jesus and that you will treasure the love of family and friends during this season.
In 1983, Clark Griswold burst onto the American cultural scene as the bumbling and flawed, albeit well-meaning, father in the National Lampoon Vacation movies. Chevy Chase played this comedic role almost to perfection. The movies were an outgrowth of the popular short story published in National Lampoon magazine, “Vacation ’58,” by John Hughes. I’m sure Hughes took some poetic license for the sake of entertainment, but from his report, the story was mostly based in truth, from a real, disastrous vacation that he and his family took to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, when he was a boy. The movie was an instant hit and financial success, earning 61 million U.S. dollars against the 15 million it cost to produce it. Moreover, it spawned a chain of successful movies built on the same theme and characters, although in different settings. There was something about the movie that struck a chord in the hearts and minds of the American public, perhaps because they could identify with many of the adversities the Griswold family encountered in the movie, having lived through such scenarios while traveling themselves. There’s certainly a satirical ring of truth to each of the comedic situations that the characters get themselves into. And Americans certainly know something about travel. Our travel and tourism industry pumps about 1.1 trillion U.S. dollars each year into our economy, according to the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries in the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Travel has become such a quintessential American experience, probably borrowing from the “grand tour” custom that began in Great Britain as early as 1660, but spread to other countries as well. The grand tour was a rite of passage for many young noblemen and gentry after graduating from university studies. They would then embark on an odyssey, often led by a knowledgeable cicerone, that would touch on as many key historical, cultural, and religious sites across Europe as possible. This experience would then presumably synthesize all the worldly learning from their university studies, turning them into finely polished young men. It would also be one last fling to celebrate their completion of studies before they settled down to a respectable life of work, marriage, and family. Travel certainly had an impact on Great Britain, with famous travelers such as Inigo Jones bringing back to their home country much of the style of the countries they visited. Jones was a Surveyor-General under James I, who, upon visiting Italy, was enthralled by the graceful lines of Roman classical architecture that he encountered. His enthusiasm for the style sparked the Georgian architectural era, bringing back to Britain classical designs as translated through the mind of Andreas Palladio of Italy. You can certainly see the impact in the many buildings in London that follow classical design. But the love of travel influenced other parts of British culture, as well, sparking an interest in travel literature with many non-fiction accounts of odysseys such as those written by Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne or even fictionalized accounts such as Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.
These various accounts of travel and the tradition of the grand tour probably trace their lineage to Marco Polo's tales of his journey to China, the tales of returning crusaders, and the older tradition of the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage began in the middle ages as a journey of the faithful to various important Christian sites. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales , written toward the end of the 14th century, is based on such a pilgrimage of travelers to Canterbury, the site of the shrine to Thomas Becket who was murdered by followers of Henry II following a dispute with the king over the rights and privileges of the church. The frame of the story is a requirement for each of the travelers to tell a story to keep them all entertained during the long, arduous journey. So it seems that travel has long been in our blood in the western world. It has become part of our psyche, perhaps contributing to a constant sense of wanderlust that keeps us traveling about our home countries and to other countries around the world, and dreaming constantly of such travels.
The adventure that can be had in just a matter of hours is certainly the stuff of dreams, and probably the reason why we continue to spend so many of our hard-earned dollars on travel. I came by the travel bug through my father. He would plan a big trip every summer that took us to all corners of the contiguous states. So I began to dream of travels while I was a boy and eventually taking many of those dreamed-of travels when I became a man. I started my life of adventure by enlisting in the Army in 1979. The only stipulation I gave to my recruiter was that I wanted to go to Germany for my first tour. I had listened to my father’s stories of his Army tour in Germany during the 50’s, and I was instantly hooked, wanting to someday visit that wonderful country, which I ultimately did, going on to spend eight years of my life on German soil during three Army tours.
More on this tomorrow.