Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ty Cobb

Royston, Georgia - Visited December 2010


Times have certainly changed
This is a very recent venture with my brother John when we were down visiting with my mom in Toccoa, GA. Finally went to see Ty Cobb, who is repining up in my family’s North Georgia neck of the woods. I can’t say I was a fan of Ty Cobb before this, and doing some research didn’t make him any more appealing as a person. But he was an amazing baseball player, arguably the best pure hitter in history. The reason he’s made it into the blog is not so much because of his claim to fame but because of a very odd way I found out where he is buried. I’ll unpack that down below. But first, some bio.


Tyrus Raymond "Ty" Cobb was born in rural Banks County, Georgia. December 18, 1886. which coincidentally makes this post a little tribute to his 124th birthday. He died July 17, 1961. Though he was born into very modest circumstances, his father was a teacher who gradually advanced into higher education and state and local politics. The elder Cobb’s vision for his son was education and position, but Tyrus just wanted to play baseball. And he was good at it from the get go. Father and son never saw eye to eye on the game but the father reluctantly assented when his son secured a contract with the Detroit Tigers, nurturing his tender ambitions with these kindly parting words: ‘don’t come back a failure’.
Ty Cobb's Hall of Fame Plaque

Ty Cobb didn’t fail. He played for 22 years in the majors, amassing a bunch of hitting records including the highest lifetime batting average of .367, which is still tops in baseball history. He was elected to the first class of the Hall of Fame with the highest percentage of votes, beating out Babe Ruth, among others. And he shrewdly amassed a considerable fortune, which he built on throughout his retirement.

But by all accounts Ty Cobb was not a real pleasant guy. Probably racist, he was also mean spirited, and vengeful (among other undesirable traits).  Not surprisingly, he was a loner throughout his life. His playing style was equally aggressive, labeled by one sportswriter as ‘daring to the point of dementia’. As Cobb himself put it, “I’ve got to be first all the time. In everything.”





"Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It's no pink tea, and mollycoddles had better stay out. It's a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest."

Why such an ornery cuss? There are several possible reasons. Some point to the fact that he was a southerner playing what was a ‘Yankee’ game in the long shadow of the Civil War. Others suggest it was the fact that his father was accidentally shot to death by his mother the week he signed his first Major League contract. My personal opinion is that he was called ‘the Georgia Peach’, which should rightfully tick off any guy who gets stuck with that kind of nickname. Anyway, it does appear that Cobb mellowed somewhat with age, secretly helping out broke former players, and ultimately giving millions to establishing a hospital and medical treatment system in North Georgia which still serves the area. In his later years Cobb lived in California and Nevada, but returned to Royston, GA in his final days, passing away from cancer and other ailments in 1961.


My mystical intersection with Ty Cobb and his final resting place goes as follows. My great grandfather Ben Fricks was a childhood friend of Ty Cobb, and he kept a lifetime relationship with the Georgia Peach. Upon Cobb’s death, Grandpa Fricks was asked to be a pallbearer at Ty Cobb’s funeral. That much is part of family history. On September 27, 1994 I was sitting in my basement in Drexel Hill, PA. It was during the inaugural run of Ken Burns documentary, “Baseball” on PBS, and I had been devoting my evenings to seeing it all the way through. It was the Eighth Inning installment, covering the 1960s. As I settled into my chair to watch, the episode opened oddly with grainy black and white footage of a funeral procession. It soon became apparent that what I was watching was the funeral procession of Ty Cobb to his final resting place in a cemetery in the little town of Royston. And therefore it became very apparent that I was watching my great grandfather Ben, who had died in the late Sixties, playing a bit part in a PBS pledge special. I had only known Ben Fricks when I was a little kid who didn’t like to be around old people very much, but it was strangely cool to see him walking stoically in a dark suit and hat, carrying the casket of the greatest hitter who ever played the game. So I had to see the spot where my great grandfather got his fifteen minutes of fame, even if it came 33 years after the fact. Thank you Ken Burns. And thank you Ty Cobb.




Cousins at the Ty Cobb statue outside Turner Field in Atlanta - June 2005

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Napleon Bonaparte

Paris, France. Visited June 2009




I am a Napoleonic neophyte – backwards in all things Bonaparte. Most of my knowledge of Napoleon has come from watching “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” But about a year and a half ago my wife Jill and I were in Paris for our 25th wedding anniversary. And, there, a block from our hotel was the great military museum of Les Invalides – with the Emperor himself laid out somewhere inside. So I had to pay a visit.



So what can I tell you about the Emperor? I can’t possibly give a full bio of the incredibly eventful life of Napoleon. So here are some word associations.



Corsica – Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Corsica in August 1769, which means he was not French. French Revolution – The fall of the French monarchy ultimately led to the rise of Napoleon. He became a general in the Republican army at 24. Rosetta Stone – During one brief time when Napoleon wasn’t actually picking fights with other countries he led scientists on an expedition which resulted in the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. Napoleon Complex – a dubious psychological theory that suggests men of short stature compensate with cravings for power. Napoleon was 5’6” and crowned himself Emperor of France in 1804. Don’t Invade Russia. Napoleon’s great military failure was an ill advised invasion of Russia which ground to a halt in the Russian winter, leading to a devastating defeat in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. Hitler repeated the same mistake a century later. Elba – deposed after his defeat, Bonaparte was exiled to Island of Elba. He escaped, gathered a following and reclaimed the throne, but only for 100 days. Waterloo – Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815 at the hands of the Prussians and the English under the Duke of Wellington. St. Helena – Napoleon’s final stop. An island 2 thousand miles from anywhere.


There is no truth to the urban legend that "Napoleon Dynamite" is a modern allegory of the Napoleonic era. 



Les Invalides - Napoleon is buried under the dome
Napoleon survived in exile for six years, succumbing to stomach cancer in May 1821. His last words were “France, army, head of the army, Josephine.” He was buried on St. Helena, but was then moved in 1840 to Paris. His final resting place is under the grand dome of Les Invalides, the historic museum and war veterans’ home in the center of Paris.



If you want to get a quick Napoleon multi-media immersion check out this compilation set to Cold Play’s Viva la Vita, watch this Viva la Vita Napoleon



What do we make of Napoleon? No doubt he is one of the finest military leaders of all time; an emperor of epic scale. But in the end Napoleon Bonaparte lies in an ornate box visited by tourists who know nothing about him but his height and his hand in his vest.
Napoleon's tomb - actually an outer box containing six coffins laid inside each other - nobody seems to know why.  Travel writer Rick Steves describes it as "a giant loaf of homemade bread about the size of a UPS truck" 

Statue at Les Invilades
Perhaps the best way to sum up what we can learn from Napoleon is found in Psalm 33: 13-18
The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A. W. Tozer

Akron, Ohio. Visited October 2008




A. W. Tozer is one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th Century. And he occupies a significant place in my life as a follower of Christ.

Aiden Wilson Tozer was born on a small farm in western Pennsylvania in April 1897. His family moved to Akron, Ohio when he was 15. Tozer went to work for the Goodyear Rubber Company as a teenager. It was on his way home from work one day that he heard a street preacher proclaim, ‘If you don’t know how to be saved…. just call on God’. Provoked in his soul, Tozer climbed into the attic of his house, where he did indeed call on God and received the gift of salvation.



While relatively little is known about Tozer’s early Christian experience, he appears to have been gifted with a robust spiritual intellect from the beginning. In 1919, at the age of 22, A. W. Tozer received his first call to the ministry from a small Christian Missionary Alliance church in West Virginia. He spent his entire ministerial career in three churches, most prominently at Southside Alliance Church in Chicago. While possessing a renowned preaching gift, Tozer’s greatest contribution to the cause of Christ is undoubtedly his theological writing. Books such as The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy are Twentieth Century spiritual classics, bringing significant theological reflection with clarity and depth to the average believer. His 44 year ministry ended with his sudden passing by heart attack while pastoring a church in Toronto. Tozer's family decided to lay him to rest in Ellet Cemetery, a small church cemetery in Akron. The epitaph on his tombstone is a simple description of his life and ministry – “A. W. Tozer – A Man of God.”


Visited Tozer with my friend Jason Reyes.  We got there when it was almost dark and stumbled around looking for it almost in vain.  Tozer is the top attraction in Akron in my mind.  The other two are the Blimp hangar and LeBron James' house - in that order


A. W. Tozer will always occupy a place of formative significance in my personal Christian experience. As a new believer in 1981 the first two Christian books I was given were C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and a selection of Tozer’s writings entitled The Best of A. W. Tozer: Fifty-two Favorite Chapters, compiled by Warren Wiersbe. I came to Christ from an intellectually convinced atheism. These two books tag teamed me in my spiritual infancy. Lewis wrestled down my intellectual pride and skepticism against simple belief in the Savior. But it was Tozer who got in my face with glory ultimatums – who was I going to live for and what was I going to do with the few short moments I have on earth. It is to A. W. Tozer that I have returned time and again over the years when my theological closet needed to be reorganized and my namby-pamby Christian vision needs a slap in the back of the head.

I don’t know if it’s possible to have a favorite A. W. Tozer quote – his writing is almost entirely worth quoting. But here are some that remind me of what the ‘Man of God’ did for me in the early days of my journey in Christ.



“No man should desire to be happy who is not at the same time holy. He should spend his efforts in seeking to know and do the will of God, leaving to Christ the matter of how happy he should be.”

“The sovereign God wants to be loved for Himself and honored for Himself, but that is only part of what He wants. The other part is that He wants us to know that when we have Him we have everything -- we have all the rest.”

"We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail. The resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait."

"Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God"




















Thursday, October 14, 2010

Robert E. Lee

Lexington, Virginial.  Visited August 2000; July 2006




Reader's note:  In doing posts on the Civil War I will include both Union and Confederate figures.  I would appeal that these posts be read as human interest stories, not as commentary on that difficult period in American history and the slavery that required such a tragic war to be fought for its eradication.

This post is in recognition of the 140th anniversary this week of the passing of Robert E. Lee.

Had it not been for his participation in the Confederacy Robert E. Lee would have probably been recognized as the quintessential American hero. He was born in 1807 on the great colonial estate of Stratford Hall Plantation. His father was the renowned Revolutionary cavalry commander and Virginia governor Henry ‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee. His marriage to the great granddaughter of Martha Washington further embedded him in the heritage of colonial American nobility.




Little is known about Robert E. Lee’s boyhood years. At age 17 he received an appointment to the fledgling U. S. Military Academy at West Point, where he finished second in his class. Lee distinguished himself by being one of the few cadets to graduate without ever receiving a demerit. This apparently was a big deal because you can’t read about Lee without seeing mention of his demeritlessness.



After graduation Lieutenant Lee served well in the Corp of Engineers. But it was his service in the Mexican American War of 1846-48 where Lee distinguished himself as a soldier and a leader. In the Mexican War Lee also fought along side comrades who would become major figures in the Civil War, including his ultimate foe Ulysses Grant.



After the war Lee (now a colonel) served in several military positions, including commandant of the Military Academy, and would have probably finished out his military career as a model soldier had the Civil War not erupted in 1860. Looking for a man with combat and command experience who showed promise in administration, Abraham Lincoln called upon Robert E. Lee to serve as commander of the major Union force of the war, the Army of the Potomac. But faced with the choice of fulfilling his army oath by waging war on his home state, Lee resigned his commission and accepted a role in the fledgling Army of the Confederacy.

  
Within two years Lee had assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia and would participate in the most significant action of the war. Lee’s remarkable success in battle while consistently outnumbered and outgunned made him a legend. He was a bold and innovative commander who led his army by audacious generalship and force of sheer personal charisma. But as the war began to drag out Lee’s dwindling army found itself facing inevitable defeat. In April 1865, surrounded on all sides by superior Union forces, Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. 


Appomattox Courthouse at the place where Robert E. Lee and U. S. Grant met to agree on surrender.  The actual surrender document would be signed in a farm house nearby.  The blogger with two of his intrepid kids circa 2006.

Perhaps Robert E. Lee’s greatest contribution to history was his conduct in defeat. Rather than seeking to prolong hostilities that would simply produce further destruction, he urged the South to end its conflict and return to the Union. Though he lost his American citizenship because of his role in the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee spent the rest of his days seeking national reconciliation and restoration of the country. After the war he accepted presidency of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia because he wanted to rebuild the youth of the South which had been decimated by the Civil War. It was at his home in Lexington on October 12, 1870 that Robert E. Lee quietly passed away from the effects of a stroke. He was 63 years old. His last words – ‘strike the tents’ - poignantly reflect the heart of a life-long soldier.


In 1975 Robert E. Lee’s United States citizenship was restored by act of Congress.




The Robert E. Lee Statue on Gettysburg Battlefield looking out toward the open field of Pickett's Charge.  A great scene in the movie 'Gettysburg' where Lee rebukes Jeb Stuart expresses the leadership style ascribed to General Lee

The man Robert E. Lee is difficult to distinguish from the icon of the antebellum South. He wrote very little about himself and published nothing of note on his life experiences. What is known is that he was a man of exemplary character, dignity and self resolve. As to the scourge of slavery, Lee was a man of his times; he personally lamented the practice of forced human bondage but felt that the institution of slavery must be resolved over time.

Despite his deficient understanding of the sin of slavery, by all accounts Robert E. Lee was a man of sincere, Biblical faith; as distinguished from the culturally accepted religious piety of his era. In his own words, ‘My chief concern is to try to be an humble, earnest Christian.’ Though one of the greatest warriors in military history, Robert E. Lee may be most remembered for the personal character and humanity that radiated from a heart living consciously and consistently before the face of God. A letter to his wife late in the war provides a telling glimpse into the soul of Robert E. Lee.

“What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”



Robert E. Lee is buried in the family crypt in the lower level of Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University. As is fitting to his simple dignity, the only marker is his name on a simple masonry seal.






For anyone who is a student of the Civil War or American History, a detour off of I-81 into the quaint historic town of Lexington is well worth the effort. We will visit Lexington again for future posts on this blog.

Grant (circa 2006) next to Lee's horse Traveller, who is buried just outside the Lee Chapel


Other blog subjects buried in Lexington, VA


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Secretariat

Lexington, Kentucky.  Visited April 2006




Time Cover Story - Spring 1973

I’ve been looking forward to this post. I get to talk about my favorite athlete of all time – Secretariat, the great thoroughbred. The opportunity for this blog right now is to commemorate the release on October 8 of his ‘biography’, the Disney-produced “Secretariat”. Disney has done a great job with a number of its sports biographies (Remember the Titans, Miracle and The Rookie come to mind), so I have hope for this.

It may seem odd to say that a horse is your favorite athlete. I mean, does a racehorse even know he’s in a competition? In days where sports stars are often either trouble makers or drug takers (or both), choosing an animal for a hero could look like a cop out. So I’ll need to need to make my case for “Big Red” as my favorite athlete. But first some bio.





 
Secretariat was foaled in March, 1970 and was put down due to laminitis at the ripe old horse age of 19 at historic Claiborne Farm in Lexington, KY. His birthday made him eligible for the 1973 Triple Crown races. As a two year old he had begun to show real promise, but nothing indicated what he would accomplish in three races over five weeks in May and June of 1973. No horse had won the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont) in a quarter of a century, and many said it could no longer be done. Secretariat not only won the Triple Crown, it was the way he did it that created the legend.

Big Red won the Kentucky Derby by a respectable two and a half lengths over a hard running colt named Sham. In the process though, he set a track record at Churchill Downs that still stands almost forty years later. Even more remarkable, his quarter mile fractions decreased throughout the race, which means he was accelerating the entire time.

The second race, the Preakness, is the shortest of the three. Secretariat beat a game Sham once again by two and half lengths, setting one of the lowest times in track history. But it is the Belmont race that will forever define Secretariat’s greatness.

The Belmont is the longest of the Triple Crown races at a mile and a half. Given that Big Red had come from last place to take victory going away in each of the first two races, only four other horses (including Sham) challenged him in the Belmont. This time Secretariat and Sham went to the lead together, but on the back stretch Secretariat nosed ahead. By the turn the race was effectively over; the only question would be the margin of victory. As captured by announcer Chick Anderson’s classic race call (“Secretariat is widening now. He’s moving like a tremendous machine!”) the horse simply took off – widening his lead ultimately to 31 lengths! As he crossed the finish line no other horse was even in the TV picture. At first you might assume that the other jockey’s simply pulled up to save their defeated horses, and this would account for the victory margin. But a glance at the race timer doesn’t lie – 2 minutes 24 seconds – a world record for that race distance that has never been broken! So essentially my favorite athlete smashed a world record simply for the fun of it. As jockey Ron Turcotte put it “I was just along for the ride”. If you’ve never seen Secretariat’s Belmont, you owe yourself the thrill – here it is:   Secretariat's 1973 Belmont


Home stretch of the Belmont.  My wife gave me this picture signed by the photographer and jockey Ron Turcotte - I've got it hanging in my office

When lists of the greatest athletic feats of the Twentieth Century are concocted, Secretariat’s Belmont is a consistent top five finisher. I vote it number one.


Secretariat statue at Kentucky Horse Farm in Lexington

So why my hero? Spring 1973 was a dismal time - the Vietnam War had finally ground to a bitter end in March, but the Watergate scandal was casting its jaded pall over the country.  In 1973 I was a 13 year old kid who, like everyone else, was looking for something to root for, not just against.  And like everyone else I got caught up in Secretariat mania.  I had re-arranged my Saturday schedules to catch the Derby and Preakness.  Imagine how bummed I was when I found out that I had to go to the store with my mom on the day of the Belmont. But one of the clearest memories I have of that period of my childhood was finding my way to the electronics department of J. C. Penny and watching this amazing race unfold on about fifteen TV’s simultaneously. As I stood there with that race flashing all around me I didn't cheer.  Instead, I was caught up in some deep but undeniable sense of peace. I was watching an animal do what he was created to do, do it with amazing beauty, and do it with what seemed like effortless joy.  I was tasting a 2 minute plus burst of equine shalom - a horse being exactly what he was created to be. That’s when he became my favorite athlete and that’s what he’s been ever since.

Here's some nice footage of Big Red galloping around his retirement paddock in retirement.

video





Secretariat is buried at Claiborne Farm in a small graveyard that is sometimes called ‘the Arlington Cemetery of Horseracing’. Along with Big Red are buried some of the legendary horses of the 20th Century, including Gallant Fox, Swale, Bold Ruler and Riva Ridge.  I had the chance to visit when a couple of my fellow pastors and I were in Louisville for the first Together For the Gospel conference and we took a little road trip into horse country - to pay respects to my favorite athlete of all time. 


Monday, September 20, 2010

Oliver Cromwell's Head

Cambridge, England.  Visited December 1997


Oliver Cromwell
Ok, this post might be a little beyond the interest of most people. If there is a line between reasonable hobby and what should probably be left alone, the story of Oliver Cromwell might be on the other side of that line, because all I have to talk about is his head. But before we get to that, let’s talk about the whole man.



Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) is one of the most controversial figures in British history. To some he was the destroyer of an ancient monarchy, the only dictator in the history of Great Britain. To others he was the final guarantor of true religious freedom in England. To history he is one of the greatest military leaders the world has known. The complexity of his legacy is perhaps best illustrated by one later biographer, who described him as "a brave, bad man."


Oliver Cromwell was raised in the English countryside as a minor gentleman and was educated at Cambridge University. Around the age of 30 he became a member of Parliament during its political ascent and rivalry with the court of Charles I. In his mid 30’s, Cromwell experienced a radical conversion to Christ under the ministry of the English Puritans, with whom he would identify theologically and politically for the rest of his life.
 

During the English Civil Wars (1642-49) Oliver Cromwell emerged as the most effective leader of the Parliamentary Army, never being defeated in battle. After the execution of Charles I, Parliament offered Cromwell the throne, which he refused. But bowing to political pressure Cromwell agreed to accept the temporary position of "Protector of the Commonwealth," essentially ruling the country until a parliamentary republic could be secured. While his ultimate vision was for a parliamentary rule, Oliver Cromwell died as Lord Protector in London in 1658 – the only ruler in Great Britain never to claim royal privilege. His final words reflect both his Puritan hope and his unpretentious approach to life, “My design is to make what haste I can to be gone.”

Cromwell was buried with great fanfare among the great heroes and rulers of England in Westminster Abbey.

Oliver Cromwell honored on the Reformation Wall
 in Geneva Switzerland




But our present interest in Oliver Cromwell is what took place after his death. Here’s the story as reported by the London Daily Telegraph in November 2008.



Cromwell's head - stone version

But now return to England, winding back the clock… to the 1670s… London is one of the most advanced cities in the world. Take a stroll past Westminster Hall, and look upwards. There, on the roof, are three strange objects impaled on wooden posts, looking suspiciously like human heads.


And that is just what they are; not mock-ups or effigies, but the actual heads of three of the 'regicides' who had signed the death-warrant of Charles I in 1649 - John Bradshaw, Henry Ireton and Oliver Cromwell. When Charles II was restored to the throne, the corpses of those three men were dug up, ceremonially hanged and then decapitated, and the heads remained on public display for at least 20 years.


Ollie on a portable pike held by his last private owner
Little is known about the eventual fate of the other two; but Cromwell's head went walkabout some time in the 1680s, when his wooden pole snapped in a storm. A surprised sentry, at ground level, recognized the face that came rolling down the street at him; for Cromwell had been professionally embalmed for his original funeral, and the treatment had preserved his skin like leather.

Tradition has it that the sentry had republican sympathies, and hid the severed head like a holy relic in his home, revealing its existence only on his deathbed. His daughter later sold it, and during the 18th century it passed through the hands of various entrepreneurs and showmen, who thought - mistakenly - that they could make their fortune by exhibiting it. In 1815 this bizarre item was bought by a Mr. Wilkinson, whose family kept it out of public view, but allowed it to be carefully inspected by two scientists in 1934; finally, in 1960, it was given a decent burial in or near the chapel of Cromwell's old Cambridge college.

To be honest, I never went looking for Cromwell’s head. I stumbled on it, figuratively speaking. My brother John and I spent a week in England together in December 1997 which included a couple of days touring in Cambridge. As we walked through the University we ducked out of the rain into the entryway of Sidney Sussex College – which happens to be the alma mater of Oliver Cromwell and the final custodian of his noggin. Naturally I had to get a picture. And naturally Ollie Cromwell became a prime candidate for this blog.


The college purposely didn't identify the exact burial place of the head so no one would be tempted to dig it up and take it on the road again.  I think my head in this picture is scary enough.






Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Atlanta, Georgia.  Visited December 2006


Some dates stick out to you when you are growing up. For me, one of those dates was April 4, 1968. We were leaving a cub scout event at my school, Dresden Elementary in Chamblee, Georgia. It was early spring chilly as we all climbed into our red Rambler stationwagon and my dad turned on the car. The news came to us through WSB AM, the only radio station I knew. Dr. Martin Luther King had been shot in Memphis, Tennessee.

For a nine year old white boy in the deep south, it was an unsettling moment. I didn’t know much about Dr. King or what he stood for, but my parents had taught me to respect him, just like they had taught me to root for Henry Aaron. But I knew enough to know that not everyone around us thought well of Dr. King and the movement he represented. And we were white southerners in a white southern culture. So shock and grief were mixed with fear – fear of what might happen next as the news began to impact the world around us.

I’m so grateful for my parents. What they said over those few days helped settle the fears of a little boy who didn’t understand the volatility of the day. What they modeled helped that little boy understand that race doesn’t define who we are, but character does.



Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. His grandfather, Martin Luther King pastored the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Martin Luther King, Jr. would graduate from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Crozer Seminary in Philadelphia (now the location of Crozer Hospital) and receive his doctorate from Boston University. In 1954, he became pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama. It was in Montgomery that he began to walk out the convictions on civil rights that would define him and his impact.


King marker at Crozer Seminary where he studied theology.  The seminary
is right next to Crozer Hospital near Chester, PA
 


The major markers of King’s legacy in civil rights and racial reconciliation are significant events in American History – Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott; the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, the March on Washington and the I Have a Dream Speech; the Nobel Prize in 1964, opposition to the Vietnam War - all centered King in some of the momentous changes of the Twentieth Century.

In Spring of 1968, King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to speak to and support a sanitation workers' strike. His final 'Mountaintop' speech on April 3 hauntingly foreshadows his impending death .  It was there, one day later, while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, that Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death by James Earl Ray.


In front of Ebenezer Baptist Church, December 2006
Martin Luther King Jr. is buried with his wife Coretta (4/27-1/06) next to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The Church, Kings’s boyhood home and some other buildings have been combined with the King Study center as part of the Martin Luther King National Historic Site. It is a place every American should visit.


Martin Luther King’s speeches and sermons contain some of the most profoundly moving public words ever spoken. This is one of my favorite King quotes.


Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody. Not a few men who cherish lofty and noble ideals hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different.


At the King gravesite, December 2006

The personal connection I have to April 4, 1968, came home to me in a fresh way this past May. My dad had suddenly passed away and we were all gathered together at the family home in Toccoa, Georgia. We had made a bonfire out beside the house – like my dad used to do – and we were all sitting around sharing Grandad stories. I mentioned hearing of Dr. King’s assassination as something that has stayed with me. My brother John jumped into the conversation and shared the very same impact hearing the news had on him.  We had never mentioned this night to each other before, yet we both could go back today to the very spot on the side of the road where we heard the news. It’s a sad memory, but an important one. Learning from my white southern parents in the late Sixties taught me to look beyond race – to see the value of a person in their character, not judge them by their color. That’s the power of parenting. That’s the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on me.

Statue which is the centerpiece of the Martin Luther King Jr.
Memorial on the Mall in Washington, DC

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Benjamin Franklin

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Visited July 2004




To live in Philadelphia is to be surrounded by Ben Franklin. Streets, banks, stadiums, bridges, malls, museums all carry his name. And the man wasn’t even born here. Ben Franklin was actually born in Boston, January 1706, however there is no hint he ever rooted for the Red Sox.

The basics of Franklin’s life are rattling around the brain of anyone who ever took American History. The fifteenth of seventeen children, he ran away from home to Philadelphia at age 17, where he fell into the printing trade and gradually built a business as a publisher. His colorful life included a common law marriage that lasted 44 years, an illegitimate son who would grow up to be a British governor of New Jersey during the Revolutionary War (and thus Ben’s enemy), a legacy of scientific discoveries, and a key role in drafting the Declaration of Independence.  As a diplomat he represented the Colonies in the courts of both England and France. Franklin’s significance as a founding father is evident in the simple fact that he was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Probably my favorite Franklin story is told by David McCullough in his book John Adams, where Franklin and Adams were sent by the Continental Congress to meet with the British commander Lord Howe. Stopping overnight at an inn, the two rotund statesmen found themselves sharing a bed in a room with only one small window. They spent the evening arguing over whether keeping the window open or shut would provide greater risk for sickness; debating two equally wrong personal theories of germ spread. (McCullough, 154-55)

Grant and I on the Penn campus in serious debate with the good doctor on whether McNabb should have been traded by the Eagles.  Ben was against the deal.   
Benjamin Franklin was known for his wit, maybe even more than for his wisdom. Here are five of Franklin’s comments that I find pretty funny.


He who falls in love with himself will have no rivals.

She laughs at everything you say. Why? Because she has fine teeth.

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.

Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.

I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.
Religious belief had a curious place in Benjamin Franklin's life. His theology may be best summed up in the phrase he coined – "God helps those who help themselves." Franklin seemed to spend his entire life in an internal religious debate. He was raised by Puritan parents, but while he kept many of the moral principles of their religious life, he largely abandoned any biblically recognizable Christianity. In his middle years he became close friends with the evangelist George Whitefield, even publishing his sermons to promote the revival known as The Great Awakening. Franklin had a large hall built for Whitefield to preach in when he was in Philadelphia. Together they converted the hall into what would become the University of Pennsylvania. Yet he never seriously considered the implications of the Gospel Whitefield preached as relevant for his own soul.






Franklin lived to a ripe old age of 84, dying April 17, 1790, from a number of ailments at his home in Philadelphia. His last known words were reported to be, "A dying man can do nothing easy," which seemed to be a reference to his discomfort in his final moments. His funeral in Philadelphia drew a crowd of twenty thousand people. Franklin is buried in the cemetery of Christ Church, which is in the historic section of Philadelphia, a couple of blocks from Independence Hall.



 Franklin’s tombstone is a simple slab that contains his name along with the name of his wife Deborah. But early in life he seemed to have a bit more vision for what would take place as he left this mortal coil.

The body of B. Franklin, Printer
(Like the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn Out
And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies Here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be Lost;
For it will (as he Believ'd) Appear once More
In a New and More Elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected
By the Author.



Ben Franklin's grave - people throw pennies on it for good luck - something to do with 'a penny saved...' That's my nephew Ben (coincidentally named) looking to acquire some pocket change - about 6 years ago.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Michelangelo

Florence, Italy.  Visited June 2010



This is a brand new grave sighting from my trip to Europe with my daughter Kelsey and her friend Sarah while visiting my brother John in Switzerland. We spent a few days in Florence and stopped in on Michelangelo. Michelangelo is buried along with some other notable Italians (sure to show up here someday) in the Cathedral of Santa Croce.


Not this guy










Michelangelo (1475-1564) lived almost 90 years - a remarkable feat in itself at the time – split between his home city of Florence and Rome, where he died hard at work on his final sculpture. At the time of his death he was renowned as the greatest artist of his era. He considered himself first of all a sculptor (His David is an extraordinary must see in Florence) but his best known work is the massive painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He was also a renowned architect (St. Peter’s Basilica is his design) and an accomplished poet. During one of its many wars, the city of Florence drafted him for his creativity to design a defense for the city which included saving the campanile (church tower) of San Miniato by covering it with mattresses.

Michelangelo remained single for his entire life, which wasn’t that unusual for great artists of his time. He seemed to live his life struggling with the weight of his gift, remarking late in his life, "I am a poor man and of little worth, who is laboring in that art that God has given me in order to extend my life as long as possible." By all accounts he was a difficult genius, largely indifferent to relationships and prone to melancholy.



Michaelangelo statue at the Uffizi
Gallery in Florence
This Guy

















For you reformatics, there is an interesting thread of Michelangelo’s life that points to a growing awareness of salvation by faith alone. The artist was at work on the Sistine Chapel when Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg door. In the years that followed he seemed to have involved himself in a group of Italians drawn toward the dawning Reformation even though he was in the immediate employment of the Vatican. While Michelangelo never left the world of the Catholic Church, late in his life he appears to have been coming to the conviction that only the atoning sacrifice of Christ was sufficient to cover his sins. This is noted in a short description of his death in Santa Croce, which talks about his wrestling with trust in works or in faith alone. It is also evident in a sonnet written in his eighties.

The thorns and nails of both your palms
with your benign, humble and merciful face,
promise the grace of repenting much
and hope of salvation to my sad soul …
May your blood wash and cleanse my sins,
and the older I grow, the more may it abound
with prompt help and complete pardon.

Michelangelo’s final known words are a verbal last will and testament made to his friends at his deathbed, “My soul I resign to God, my body to the earth, and my worldly possessions to my relations.”





The great artist was initially buried in Rome, but his nephew soon had him dug up and carried to Florence in a wagon covered by bales of hay. There he was buried in Santa Croce in a crypt carved by his friend and fellow sculptor Vasari. In addition to the bust of Michelangelo, three statues were included in the tomb design representing his three artistic disciplines – sculpture, painting and architecture. Don’t ask me to identify which is which.




Kelsey was kind to let me use this pic of her.  My shot ended up being fuzzy.  The scaffolding is from renovations they were doing in the church.
 
 
Other blog subjects buried at Santa Croce: 
 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jonathan Edwards


Princeton, New Jersey.  Visited May 2008















I'm kicking off I See Dead People with one of my spiritual heroes - Jonathan Edwards. Edwards lived from 1703 to 1758. He was a pastor/theologian who ministered most of his life in New England. Edwards is closely associated with the Great Awakening, a wide-spread spiritual revival which occurred during his pastorate in Northampton, MA 1734-35. He wrote about the experience of revival, and wise understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in his book A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (common title).


The only remnant of the church in Northampton where
Jonathan Edwards served as pastor - the stone step
leading into the meeting house. 



One of the things I appreciate about JE was that he understood his weaknesses and worked against them his whole life. For example, he wasn’t what you’d call a people person, which is a problem for a guy trying to pastor a church. But he fought that tendency by opening up his home and life to others, even folks who didn’t always see things his way.  Edwards was a man who wanted to live out the faith as if God is really who He says He is.





Jonathan Edwards was named first president of the College of New Jersey (which became Princeton University) in 1758, but died that same year after contracting small pox from a small pox vaccine. His daughter, who was with him at the time also contracted the disease and died about the same time, leaving small children orphaned. Edward's wife Sarah, who was preparing to move to New Jersey at the time, came down to care for her grandchildren. Sadly, she too fell ill and died in Princeton a few months after her husband and is buried with him.










Andy and fellow JE fan John Shaw with
Edwards at Old Princeton






 
Edwards final known words: "Trust in God and you need not fear."



Jonathan Edwards is buried at Old Princeton Cemetery (not to be confused with Princeton Seminary), among a number of great Princeton theologians (maybe to appear here in the future). Well worth a visit.





If you want to read a great bio of Jonathan Edwards, check out George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards - A Life.  If you want a great place to start reading Edwards (not an easy task, the man was thick with ideas!) I suggest his Charity and Its Fruits, an exposition of 1 Corinthians 13. Here's a favorite quote from that book:

Church history buffs on a Great Awakening tour August 2012
 
 
 
 

Sarah Edwards plaque on the Edwards crypt

 

"As you have not made yourself, so you were not made for yourself. You are neither the author nor the end of your own being. Nor is it you that uphold yourself in being, or that provide for yourself, or that are dependent on yourself. There is Another that hath made you, and preserves you, and provides for you, and on whom you are dependent; and He hath made you for Himself, and for the good of your fellow creatures, and not only for yourself. He has placed before you higher and nobler ends than self, even the welfare of your fellowmen, and of society, and the interests of His kingdom; and for these you ought to labor and live, not only in time, but for eternity." (180-81)








Others blog subjects buried at Princeton Cemetery:
Benjamin B Warfield