RSSArchive for the ‘history’ Category
Posted February 4th, 2012 by Jen in features, germany, history, persecuted church, politics/world news, religion
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Bonhoeffer’s been dogging me for decades and sometimes I do wish he’d back off, because he’s always reminding me that anything of value has a high price. I’m a tight-wad, I don’t like to pay high prices.
Perhaps you’ve not been introduced to Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Today is his birthday, and 106 years ago he entered the world, along with his twin sister, Sabine, in Breslau, Germany, bringing great joy to Paula and Karl Bonhoeffer, and eventually there would be eight children who had the most lovely and nurturing family a child could hope for. Above the west entrance of Westminster Abbey in London are 10 modern martyrs – Bonhoeffer’s statue is among them. In the briefest of words, Bonhoeffer was a theologian, a pastor, a writer, a Christian, a prophet, an anti-Nazi spy. He was executed on April 9, 1945 in a German concentration camp for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler, just days before liberation of that camp.
But I’d like to talk about why we should be concerned about Bonhoeffer in the 21st century.
Exactly why is he relevant to such a degree that people are still writing biographies about him and giving talks and holding congresses? Germany in the 1930s and 40s is challenging to comprehend — the Nazi and Jewish issues, of course, the role of the church, and I wonder how to extrapolate from those times without finding a Nazi behind every overreaching government act.
The state of Bonhoeffer’s world was that the German Christian church looked the other way as Jews were being carted off for “resettlement in the East.” In Bonhoeffer’s last great work, Ethics, though unfinished he considered it his magnum opus, he rebukes the church for her grave offenses against humanity and allowing herself to be subjugated by the Nazi regime:
Could this not have been written ten minutes ago, as Metaxes said in an interview?
What are today’s burning issues? I ask, as I seek to find Bonhoeffer’s relevance.
Abortion is one. I’m not comfortable addressing this contentious subject. Every person I know has been affected by this, either she has personally had an abortion or knows someone who has. And so who wants to go around telling a woman she is a negligent person, a selfish creature, a murderer? Not me.
I vaguely, then rather insistently, wondered if Bonhoeffer ever had an opinion on the topic of abortion or the right to life. I discovered in his book, Ethics, what I was looking for.
Bonhoeffer considered many facets of abortion, including the pastoral care that necessarily should be involved:
He further speaks to extreme cases:
I’m amazed at the specific issues Bonhoeffer addresses with regard to abortion, and it all leaves me little room to wonder what Bonhoeffer would say today in the 21st century. As Eric Metaxas said, Bonhoeffer is staggeringly relevant. He further makes it clear that the right to life is not based on the qualities of the individual.
I read all this from Ethics just yesterday and my head fell into my hands and I wept. I almost didn’t want to know; silly, it’s not like Bonhoeffer’s opinion would change my mind, I had concluded when I was very young that abortion was an injustice. But have you ever experienced knowledge that suddenly unloads responsibility? It was this, and I wept, and I couldn’t even allow myself to grasp the entirety as I would have literally fallen to the ground from the weight of it.
I don’t want to become a radical, oh, at least not any more radical than I already am. It’s dangerous to be radical. It’s so much safer to be non-radical, at least on this side of Heaven. Bonhoeffer was a radical of sorts by all accounts, and he paid for it with his life, with a a piano wire around his neck as he dangled naked in the courtyard of the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp in Germany.
And yet he is my hero, and has been for two decades. Someone gave me The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I was in my early twenties, and that was my introduction to this compelling man. I read bits and pieces and the words just sat smoldering in the recesses of my mind for twenty years. I do gravitate to the edge of costliness, but to actually take the leap, like Bonhoeffer, is not fully in my nature.
So from the beginning of my life as a committed Christian, I’ve had in the background of my thinking, always, the cost of discipleship, which is of course clear in the teachings of Jesus, but made so visible to me by Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer was continually accused of being a single-issue fanatic in his time. And why? He vehemently opposed Nazi interference in the church and so was stripped of his pastoral license and forbidden to speak in public or print or publish. He then helped Jews escape to Switzerland which led to his first arrest. Don’t we look back from our vantage point and not see this as fanatical at all? We are not allowed the privilege of seeing our present from a future viewpoint, and that’s why I spend all this time with Bonhoeffer, searching and probing for relevance and truth to help myself, and maybe spare myself from death of conscience.
But I’ve come to realize there are rarely single-issue fanatics. There is a vast underpinning of philosophies and moralities that find expression in a single-issue, and start digging and you will find the true breadth of it all. Bonhoeffer’s extensive writings demonstrate this theory, and the complexity of what appears to be a single-issue begs to be examined.
Five years ago, on the anniversary of Bonhoeffer’s execution, I wrote an essay exploring Bonhoeffer’s call to the church, a call to action for times when the state is involved in illegitimate actions. I said I’d write more later. And here it is, it took me a while. I quote again from Bonhoeffer’s writings in Ethics, scathing words to the church in his day relating to the Jews, but equally applicable and significant for the unborn in our day:
Bonhoeffer, oh, could he have known that he would suffer to the last and to the fullest, with Christ and with the Jews and the undesirables? I do think he knew, and he intentionally chose the way of the cross.
May I leave you with some resources for you to further examine the relevance of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to your world? Following are some links (which have been of immense help to me) to books, essays, videos, blogs, all of which either directly speak of Bonhoeffer, or involve current issues to which his principles could be applied.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
Posted June 6th, 2011 by Jen in france/french, history, politics/world news
By the numbers:
Their finest hour, as Churchill said on June 18, 1940.
Posted April 18th, 2010 by Jen in features, france/french, history, persecuted church
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Ooops, sorry for those of you who came to this post yesterday or today and found it empty. It was set to auto-post and my whole family was down with the stomach flu. Not much computer time happened in the wake of one kid after another (and then mom) dropping with this horrible vomiting, diarrhea mess.
So, I will repost the article I wrote last year on the subject of the French Resistance. You may have noticed that I am fascinated with France, I am gripped by the Holocaust, and captivated by WWII heroes. Thus, the subject of the French Resistance is of great intrigue to me, especially the women who gave their lives in this effort.
Please read this post on Berthe Fraser, a brave housewife who contributed to the salvation of her country from her simple domestic position. You will learn about what exactly the French Resistance was, as well as the trials and triumphs of such persons. The subtitle of April’s blog is “What you do matters,” and Berthe truly exemplifies this saying. You do not need to have a position of power or wealth to make a difference, you just need a willing heart of courage and valor.
Posted April 10th, 2010 by Jen in history, politics/world news
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I’ve been emailing back and forth today with a friend in Poland. I’m hosting a young Polish girl this summer, the student of my friend who teaches English there. We went over the details of Julia’s itinerary and plans for her stay in the U.S.
Of course, we talked about the tragic plane crash today that killed the President of Poland, along with 96 other Polish political leaders and citizens. My friend emailed me:
Please offer some prayers for our brothers and sisters in Poland. I was reminded this morning of reason #99 to host a foreign exchange student: as we connect with people around the globe, our capacity for understanding and love expands. I was riveted by the news of the devastating loss even more so because I feel a personal connection to at least two people in Poland.
God’s blessings on Poland. It is a very special place. The reform movement that began the dismantling of communism in east central Europe began in Poland. We have the Poles to thank in large part for the fall of the Berlin Wall. I pray that the new leaders of this significant nation will be bold freedom seekers and lovers of liberty.
Posted April 4th, 2010 by Jen in features, france/french, history, persecuted church, politics/world news, religion
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Suite Française has three parts: the two main novellas, “Storm in June” and “Dolce,” and the Appendices that provide essential details about author Irène Némirovsky’s plans for the book as well as gripping correspondence that highlights the tragic story unfolding in her own family.
Suite Française portrays life in France from June, 1940 to July 1, 1941. The early German occupation of France and its impact on the daily lives of those involved is told with clarity and deep understanding of a depraved humanity and human conduct under significant pressure.
The story opens with residents realizing the Germans are at the gates of Paris. The narratives of a few people are followed as chaos ensues. The reader gets a sense of both the individual and the collective panic, with banks failing, railroads being bombed, houses being overtaken by Nazi soldiers.
The mass exodus from Paris is described in “Storm in June” with a beautiful, expressive tone, as the author relates a scene from a boulevard where families are moving with a dizzying agitation to pack up their families and belongings:
The second novella, “Dolce,” describes a subdued and defeated French people in the village of Bussy who must live with an incoming garrison of Wehrmacht troops. We see a settling, an adapting to the new reality of an occupied country. There are collaborators and resisters, and all the characters in between.
Suite Française ends with the German regiment leaving the village of Bussy to continue their fighting in Moscow. The final scene describes the village onlookers watching the enemy pull out.
About the Author:
Irène Némirovsky, a Jew from Ukraine, was born into a wealthy family that eventually fled the country during the Russian Revolution. The family ended up in Paris, and Irène quickly became a celebrated author in France.
Irène was not what one would consider an observant Jew. In fact, some have called her a self-hating Jew. Her willingness to convert to Catholicism for protection, her unsuccessful attempt to become a French citizen, her usage of anti-Semitic publishers to promote her books — all reveal a woman who was trusting in France and not Yahweh to save her.
But no matter, none of this diminishes the important place in Holocaust literature of Suite Française. You won’t find the spiritual Jewish perspective of an Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel in Irène’s writings, but this just highlights Hitler’s insanity. He didn’t care if you loved or hated being a Jew. The Nazis dealt the same hand of death to both.
Married to Jewish banker Michel Epstein, Irène had two daughters, Denise and Élisabeth. It was these two daughters we have to thank for the survival of the manuscript Suite Française.
By 1940, Jews all over Europe were deeply persecuted, and so it was with Irène’s family. She could no longer get her books published, and her husband could no longer work at the bank because of their Jewish ancestry. Despite having converted to Catholicism and being a popular literary figure in France, Irène was arrested in July 1942 as a “stateless person of Jewish descent” and sent to Auschwitz, where she died on August 17, 1942. Her husband shared the same fate a few months later in the gas chambers.
And what of the children and this book, Suite Française? Denise and Élisabeth were hidden in schools and convents until the war’s end. Their father, before he was taken away, had given them one possession to guard with their lives: a little suitcase which contained a special notebook. Can you imagine these two little orphan girls, about 13 and 5 years old, in hiding and in possession of this one family memento, too afraid to leave it, too afraid to examine its contents?
In fact, for over 50 years, the leatherbound notebook which contained Irène’s two novellas which comprise Suite Française, written in microscopic print to save precious paper, remained unopened inside of this suitcase. Irène’s daughters thought it was their mother’s journal, and knew that reading it would be too painful to bear.
Upon preparing to give her mother’s papers to a French archive in the late 1990′s, Denise finally had the courage to open the notebook. She discovered this extraordinary work, incomplete yet whole, written under the most formidable circumstances. The two novellas were intended to be the beginning of a series of five stories which would encompass the whole of the war, to its end. Irène wrote that the rest of the oeuvre was “in limbo, and what limbo! It’s really in the lap of the gods since it depends on what happens.”
Irène’s writing in Suite Française is remarkable not just for its brilliant composition but its perspective. Irène did not begin writing this book until 1941, literally as these events were unfolding before her. However, Suite Française reads not like the diary of one writing contemporaneously with the historical events, lacking a certain coherence, but it presents a viewpoint usually reserved for one who is a generation removed from the time in question who has had time to reflect.
I wonder if Irène’s placement in the timeline of human history prepared her for such a task? She had already lived as a persecuted Jew through a major war, and experienced firsthand the full circle of events. After the 1918 Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks seized her father’s bank and the Nemirovsky family had to disguise themselves as peasants and flee to Finland.
Denise reported after publication of Suite Française, “For me, the greatest joy is knowing that the book is being read. It is an extraordinary feeling to have brought my mother back to life. It shows that the Nazis did not truly succeed in killing her. It is not vengeance, but it is a victory.”
Universal Pictures has acquired screen rights to Suite Française. I think a better choice might be to make a movie about Irène Némirovsky herself, whose real life story is much more moving than the fiction she wrote.
Posted July 14th, 2009 by Jen in features, france/french, history
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Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. July 14, 2009 marks the 220th anniversary of the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. The French Revolution lasted about six to ten years, depending on who you ask. And the Marquis de Lafayette is involved in another revolution, having returned from a successful round in the American Revolution.
I wrote about Lafayette’s triumph in the American Revolution, and while he returned to France a hero in 1792, the embodiment of hope for France and a French Revolution, he did not live to see France become an independent republic.
Lafayette had seen what revolution could accomplish. He had witnessed the freedoms enjoyed by the new America. His legacy could be that he brought this light to France, but he ended up losing the public’s confidence and becoming an ineffective revolutionary.
In the years leading up to 1789, Lafayette became a leader in the campaign against the monarch. But here is what I think went wrong. First, the French had been too horribly oppressed for too long. The revolutionary movement became extremely radical and vengeful, and Lafayette didn’t know how to turn this raw, bitter force into something controllable and beneficial. He went for a more moderate course, and this ended up killing his popularity and driving him into exile. I think an extraordinary person was required for this job, one who could move beyond the compromise of a constitutional monarchy into true democracy. Someone with preeminent diplomatic skills who could harness lightning like Benjamin Franklin.
Second, when Lafayette became a member of the French legislature, he wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (similar to the Declaration of Independence), and I believe he made a grave error. While the declaration stands as monumental in terms of setting forth fundamental human rights for all men, a first for France, it makes no mention of God as the source of human rights. The U.S. Declaration of Independence asserts that human rights are derived from the “Creator” and the duty of government is to protect these God-given rights.
The problem I see with not being specific about the source of human rights is that it de facto becomes the realm of the state. France struggled in emerging from the French Revolution with a democratic republic firmly in hand in part because France, while willing to completely turn its back on the Ancien Régime, the old order, it held onto bits that denied true God-given human rights. The country suffered through the bloody Reign of Terror, in which the guillotine was used for mass execution of “enemies of the revolution,” then France allowed herself to be swept under the dictatorship of Napoléon for a time, and then a constitutional monarchy under Louis Philippe (unfortunately and regretfully with the help of the Marquis de Lafayette).
The first stable republican government wouldn’t happen in France until almost a hundred years after the French Revolution began, the Third Republic, and even this was wrought with crises and controversies. France is now in the Fifth Republic.
The Marquis de Lafayette did continue to fight for democracy for France and his dying desire was for a pure republic in France. No two revolutions are the same and Lafayette is blessed among men in history to have lived through the many uprisings and changes in paradigms.
Posted July 5th, 2009 by Jen in education, features, history, politics/world news
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They say that truth is stranger than fiction, and the story of the Marquis de Lafayette fits this expression well. His is the tale of a teenage orphan who travels to a foreign land to offer his services in a David versus Goliath type battle. Winning that battle, he returns to his homeland where he is a key player in the French Revolution.
Historians all agree on the fact that without the significant economic and military aid of the French government, the fledgling United States of America would have likely lost the Revolutionary War against the British. And this particular Frenchman, the Marquis de Lafayette, was perhaps the most crucial piece of French support.
Born in 1757 as Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, he suffered the death of his father before he was two years old and the death of his mother at age 12. His family belonged to the French nobility, so he was left with quite a fortune. In addition, at the age of sixteen, he married into the very wealthy de Noailles family. There was no need to seek fame and fortune in a faraway land on a dangerous mission, so why on earth would this young man, only 19 years old, be so resolved to volunteer for the colonies in the American cause of freedom, a land he had never seen, a people he did not know?
I’m sure the reasons for Lafayette’s service in the American Revolutionary War are complex, and I’ve tried to search out some of his motives. The first thing that comes to mind is his youth. While at first glance it’s his age that strikes me as so uncommon for such a glorious cause, there is also a freshness and vigor and sense of invincibility that comes with youth. However, he did have a wife and young son he left behind when he first landed near Charleston, South Carolina in June of 1777. Being orphaned at a young age and married with child certainly matures one beyond his years. There must be more.
I turned to the issue of revenge. I considered the tragedy of his father’s death–his father was killed by a British cannonball during the Seven Years’ War. For a young man who likely longed to know his father and who he must have revered as a hero, I wondered if Lafayette had found vengeance for his father’s death. To support the American cause of liberty was to defy and destroy British domination. Revenge can only carry one so far, however, and reflecting on how Lafayette put his very life on the line, as well as spending his personal fortune to buttress the American forces, I searched still deeper.
When considering the whole of Lafayette’s life, well beyond the American Revolution, I found in him a profound and immense freedom-fighting spirit that must have propelled him even from youth. Were the American Revolution just about personal glory or youthful fantasy, Lafayette’s quest would have likely ended there. However, as we see him fight for representative government in the French Revolution, it’s clear that Lafayette was one of those unique persons in human history who was born to fulfill an instinctive yearning for freedom, no matter the time or place.
Independence and self-government are ideals that simply resonated with Lafayette. As he served under General George Washington, these two men developed a life-long friendship and considered one another as father and son. Great people like these do find each other, invisibly drawn together by the same passion and intellect.
Lafayette participated in key battles of the Revolution, including those at Brandywine and Yorktown. In addition to military expertise, he exercised great diplomacy in convincing the king of France to increase his support in substantial excess of his original intent.
As Americans celebrate their Independence, I do hope they remember France and one particular Marquis de Lafayette.
Posted February 5th, 2009 by Jen in history, politics/world news
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From Wikipedia. Most notable in the 17th and 18th centuries in France, the salon was an important place for the exchange of ideas.
This painting is called In the Salon of Madame Geoffrin in 1755, by Anicet-Charles-Gabriel Lemmonier:
Blogs are a bit of a modern salon, I think. So, I wonder, if you were to attend the salon, what would you care to discuss? What books or ideas would you want to explore?
Posted July 18th, 2008 by Jen in features, history, politics/world news, religion
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Some ramblings on free speech…pardon the lack of a cohesive statement. Today I’m thinking about the potency of the tongue, the desire of those who seek to censor it as a political power move, the double speak going on with regards to who should have free speech and who shouldn’t. This is not an academic piece of writing, so please, keep the lawyers away.
Inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech, The Four Freedoms, dated January 6, 1941, Norman Rockwell (who I wrote about here) painted a series of freedom paintings, the first of which was The Freedom of Speech. Here is that segment of FDR’s speech mentioning the four freedoms:
I think it no coincidence that freedom of speech and expression is at the top of his list. Certainly, with Hitler’s tyranny against the slightest criticism and silencing of all forms of expression but Naziism, and with WWII then raging, Roosevelt saw a need to aggressively defend this particular freedom.
The Guardian UK published an interesting timeline of the history of free speech a few years ago. Here are a few dates that caught my eye:
Hate crimes, also known as bias motivated crimes, occur when the victim is targeted because of his membership in a certain group – racial, religious, gender, age, etc. I’m thinking of the lynching of African-Americans, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the Holocaust.
History of hate crimes legislation: The federal hate crimes statute (18 U.S.C. § 245) was originally created to protect civil rights workers in the 1960s. There were serious issues of violence regarding African-Americans enrolling in public schools, enjoying public establishments, travel issues, and more. This statute deals with racial, ethnic, national origin, and religious bias, and does not include sexual orientation. However, almost all states have much broader hate crimes legislation that does include sexual orientation.
The hype today is hate crime legislation targeting anti-gay sentiment. As far as assaults on gay people or destruction of property, or other violence toward homosexuals, there are already laws in place to deal with these crimes. So why is legislation being considered that criminalizes one’s moral or religious opposition to homosexuality? This clearly conflicts with the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. If someone is inciting others to violence with their speech, this is another issue, but anything less than that is simply criminalizing one’s thoughts. Is this America?
The expression of moral judgment is the right of a free person in a free society, whether one agrees with it or not. There are community standards and a consensus that help guide social mores, and clearly, there is not consensus on the homosexual issue.
In 2007 the House passed HR 1592 before it was put away by the Senate. This was an attempt at expanding federal hate crime legislation and will be back. I like what Congressman Ron Paul had to say about HR 1592 (emphasis mine):
Have you ever wondered recently why Dr. Dobson won’t support John McCain for President? It’s partly because of the federal legislation that John McCain (R-AZ) pushed through in 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, known as the McCain-Feingold Act. It basically restricted political free speech by placing new regulations on the financing of political campaigns – both in how much money can be raised and how and when groups can place political ads. For example, the Act requires advocacy groups to name their financial donors if they run ads within 60 days of a general election or within 30 days of a primary, if those ads were targeting candidates. In effect the McCain-Feingold Act limited the ability of groups like Focus on the Family to contact constituents about upcoming legislation.
George Will commented on it last November:
And did you notice how House Speaker Pelosi exercised her free speech to call President Bush a “total failure” yesterday (inciting and fueling hatred of America?), yet Pelosi referred to conservative talk-radio as “hate” radio and wants to bring back the Fairness Doctrine (effectively censors conservative opinion on TV and radio).
It’s only “hateful” speech if it’s anything under the sun the liberals disagree with; otherwise it’s “fairness.” Apparently only liberals/Muslims/gays/anybody-but-conservative-Christians deserve free speech (and deserve to hate).
Are you disturbed about infringements on free speech?
Posted July 6th, 2008 by Jen in features, history, persecuted church, religion
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Sorry I posted a blank Religious Freedom article earlier. It was set to auto-publish, and I lost track of time – it came and went without me noticing. All I had at that point was a poorly written document that started out something like “It was a dark and stormy night.”
I don’t promise much better at this point because the topic of religious liberty is so vast and convoluted by bizarre interpretations of the First Amendment that I can’t think straight. I’ve been looking at early original writings on religious liberty, a church history book, and modern writers on the subject. Then there’s the ACLU, the atheists, and the activist judges who muck it all up.
Here’s what we all know from the First Amendment:
The horrors of the Old World still near in their minds, the Founders in the New World wanted a fresh approach. The high price of enforced religious conformity, with its untold thousands of martyrs, was the climate in which the Founders were seeking true religious freedom of conscience.
I was listening to a Focus on the Family broadcast a few days ago, featuring historian David Barton, in which he talks about the large percentage of people who actually think the term “separation of church and state” appears in the Constitution, and mistake the Founders’ intent for the government to leave people alone in regards to their religion, with some twisted idea of a religion-free public life.
Here is an excellent piece on the Founders’ view of religion in public life:
The phase “separation of church and state” comes from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association, and can be read here in its entirety. In fact, this letter is the only record of Thomas Jefferson ever mentioning this phrase, and none of the other 90 or so men involved in the writing of the Constitution ever talked in terms of a “wall of separation between church and state,” but in the past 50 years, it’s been cited over 3,000 times by the courts, typically to justify the eradication of religious expression from public life.
Here’s what’s taken terribly out of context: these Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut were opposed to a “religion clause” even being in the Constitution at all. The reason is because they feared that religious privileges would thus be viewed as “favors granted” from the state, not as inalienable rights. They felt that the government guaranteeing religious liberty was a “degrading acknowledgment” and “inconsistent with the rights of freemen.”
Jefferson replies that the Danbury Baptists need not worry, that he completely agrees with them that “religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God.” The assurance of the “wall of separation between Church and State” that Jefferson mentions in this letter is a promise and commitment to this group of Christians that the language of “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” was simply meant to “restore to man all his natural rights.” Coming from the religious tyranny of England, it’s no wonder the Founders felt a need to be very explicit about religious freedom.
I discovered an interesting phrase in this very letter in which the “separation of church and state” is mentioned by Thomas Jefferson. It’s an overlooked phrase, one that has incredible bearing on current events regarding religious liberty and free speech. Are you ready?
Wow. I’ll be discussing Free Speech next week, but for now, I’ll just say that I find it quite ironic that the “separation of church and state” phrase has been latched onto and used mercilessly to eject any and all Christian thought from American public or political discourse, but this phrase has been conveniently disregarded. This phrase, were it made law by the Supreme Court, as has the “separation” phrase, should preclude such religious intolerance and government meddling like telling public schools what prayers they can or can’t say, what language is acceptable and what is not, or telling a private photography company that it violated state law by refusing (for religious reasons) to take a job photographing a lesbian commitment ceremony.
Those Danbury Baptists had some very valid concerns and clearly anticipated the religious/political landscape we now call Post-Modern America. I’m grateful for the inclusion of the Establishment Clause, however, America needs a return to the intent of the Founders before her people find themselves again under total religious tyranny at the hands of the government.
Posted April 19th, 2008 by Jen in arts & crafts, education, history, religion
14 Comments »
The Tomah Area School District in Wisconsin has a policy that bans Christian symbols in students’ artwork, leading to a high school student receiving a Zero on his illustration depicting a landscape with a cross and the lettering “John 3:16.”
Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Giotto, and the rest of the famous artists who produced the religious masterpieces of the world: I’m forever grateful that you didn’t live in 21st century America where you have to sign away your freedom of religious expression.
Posted March 30th, 2008 by Jen in features, health/cooking/food, history, product review
3 Comments »
The multimillionaire Swiss-born entrepreneur and winery magnate Donald Hess is switching his attention from Napa to a remote region of the Andes foothills in Argentina, in the province called Salta. In 2001, Hess added the Argentina holdings to his existing vineyards in California, South Africa, and Australia.
After a visit to the southern part of Salta in 1996, with his wife Ursula, Don Hess was directed to Cafayate, the center of wine production in the region. It was there that he drank an intriguing Malbec-Cabernet blend from Colomé, and there that he began fermenting the idea that he could plant a world class vineyard at over 9000 feet. As Hess explained,
Hess now owns a vineyard in Colomé, along with a stunning hotel and art gallery which he built, about a four hours’ drive from Salta, in northwest Argentina. Colomé’s vineyards include century old vines that pre-date the deadly vine disease phylloxera, being planted on original French rootstock. This land encompasses about 96,000 acres, and then, of course, there is the 60,000 acres at Altura Maxima (near Payogasta) and another 865 acres at nearby El Arenal. Currently, just under 300 acres are being cultivated.
It’s the Altura Maxima property that is gaining fame these days, as this vineyard currently holds the world record for vineyard at the highest altitude. In a country where bottles of wine are marked with the specific altitudes of their vineyards, there is a machismo contest going on amongst the landlords over who can go the highest. To give an idea of the heights, the California vineyards top out at 3,000 feet, and Europe at 4,300 feet. In Argentina, vineyards average 5,500 feet, and Altura Maxima boasts vineyards at close to 10,000 feet.
The high altitude, while still a very experimental thing, is thought to be viticulturally advantageous. The extreme elevations give the vines an abundance of solar radiation, and some researchers think this increases the level of healthy polyphenols in red wine. The thinner air and lower humidity seem to cause the grapes to develop thicker skins, resulting in a more flavorful, aromatic, and tannic grape.
Argentina is clearly a special place for Donald and Ursula Hess, who now spend half the year there. They love the people, and in fact, when they bought Colomé, they inherited not only the oldest winery in Argentina, dating back to 1831, but also its 400 inhabitants. Hess has been kind to these natives, who previously were forced into slave labor. Colomé employs at least one person from each extended family. Hess takes time to train them, provides them with health insurance and has built facilities to meet their needs: a clinic, community center, and church.
Hess also takes great care of the land itself. At Colomé, he installed an Italian-made hydro-electic turbine for energy, he grows everything from the vines to the food he cultivates for the hotel using traditional biodynamic principles, and the entire estate is self-sufficient. You’ll find sheep and cattle there producing organic meat and milk, and their manure fertilizing the vines and gardens.
If you think you might want to go start a vineyard, keep in mind the timetable. Hess realizes that Argentina will probably be the cap of his career, because these ventures take a great deal of not only money, but time. Here is his projection:
Time will tell if Donald Hess’ high altitude experiment will pay off. As he battles the unique hurdles of the region – frost, hail, wild donkeys, minimum oxygen, and the Argentine leaf-cutting ant (which destroyed 13 acres of his first planting), Hess still presses on.
The Hess Group produces four wines at its Colomé vineyards, just three of which you can find in the United States in very limited quantities: Colomé Torrontes, Colomé Estate Malbec, and Colomé Reserva. If you have the opportunity to travel to Argentina, you’ll want to stay at Hess’ Estancia Colomé.
photo credit: Estancia Colomé and USA Today
Posted March 28th, 2008 by Jen in family life, history
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It’s Aloha Friday over at An Island Life. Time to post a fun question for you, and be sure to check out the other participants at the link above. My question for today:
Here is my answer, and I’d love to hear from you…
My dad was proud to a “hillbilly” from West Virginia and quite enjoyed referring to himself as such. He loved his native state and often spoke (in his southern drawl) of Appalachia’s rugged mountains and rivers (and cricks and hollers). And can you believe he had my oldest sister baptized all swaddled up in the Confederate flag? Growing up (in Arizona and then Michigan), I never knew anyone else from West Virginia and hadn’t met my dad’s relatives. So I never made one particular connection – I had no idea he had an Appalachian accent.
I was about 22. My dad had already died (cancer), and I was on a college trip to rural Appalachia with Habitat for Humanity. We were deep in the hills of Tennessee, and an older local gentleman who was helping our crew stopped to ask me a question. That moment is still vivid in my memory, because out of his mouth seemed to come my dad’s voice. Only then did I have the revelation. My dad was not the only person to speak with his peculiar dialect – he was one of many and belonged to a people that I suddenly felt connected to.
Posted March 16th, 2008 by Jen in features, health/cooking/food, history, product review
3 Comments »
Italy’s tiny village of Sorbo Serpico in Campania’s Irpinia region is home to the highly acclaimed Feudi di San Gregorio estate, established in 1986. For many years this southern Italian area was overlooked by other winemaking powerhouses to the north, but the folks at Feudi have tapped into the incredible potential of Campania’s unique terroir and ancient varietals.
Close to Mt. Vesuvius, the land is layered with mineral-rich deposits of volcanic ash, remarkably favorable to vines, producing a grape with very distinctive flavors and aromas. Many of the vines used by Feudi di San Gregorio are centuries old, including the oldest Aglianico vines in the country, a grape with origins in ancient Greece. When a food writer and wine lover set out to find Italy’s oldest vineyard, his quest eventually led to one of Feudi di San Gregorio’s vineyards, about which he was told:
This is an ancient grapevine, not a tree:
Enzo Ercolino and his wife Mirella Capaldo started Feudi di San Gregorio, and along with Italian enologist Riccardo Cotarella, they have taken every advantage of the natural conditions of Campania, and added a modern technology twist to make exquisite modern wines from ancient vines. You will not find them stomping grapes with their feet, despite the ancient history. Feudi di San Gregorio took a high spending approach, building a $25 million winery and hospitality center.
The sleek new wine cellar has capacity for 5,000 barrels, and their state-of-the-art technology includes vineyards equipped with solar-powered meteorological stations which are constantly gathering weather data. This high tech method actually minimizes the need for artificial viticulture. The Feudi di San Gregorio estate also includes a gourmet restaurant, a stunning glass enclosed tasting room, a wine shop, lush landscaped gardens, and an outdoor amphitheater. It’s well positioned to be a world-class tourist destination.
And the wine, ah, I hear it’s good.
photo credits: New York Times, Vinography
Posted March 2nd, 2008 by Jen in features, france/french, health/cooking/food, history, product review
8 Comments »
This begins the story of Domaine Rouge-Bleu. Jean-Marc Espinasse, the charming man behind this Provençal vineyard, went on from that first wine making adventure to begin his very own vineyard just over a year ago. He was offered 25 acres of old vines, and with his lovely American wife Kristin and their children, began the amazing task of creating Rouge-Bleu, along with renovating a nearly 400 year old Provençal farmhouse. I was immediately drawn into this story because of that endearing quality of a man living out his dream.
I stumbled upon Jean-Marc’s blog recently, and was excited when I saw that he and his wife were doing a west coast tour! But, I read his blog a few days too late, as he had already passed through Portland, just hours from me. I left a comment on his blog anyway, mentioning our dream of a vineyard on our property someday. I was so surprised to see an email several days ago titled Vineyard in the desert, from Jean-Marc! He asked the telling question:
I knew immediately I was in trouble. I responded that it was quite doubtful, since we had to drill through over 60 feet of solid rock, plus another 200 feet, to hit water when we installed our well. Monsieur Espinasse is a gracious but straightforward Frenchman, and gave me no-nonense advice:
Ah, well, let’s talk about Rouge-Bleu! Their “Dentelle” Cuvée is scheduled to be bottled in just over a week, and I imagine everyone is very excited. Organic and ancestral practices at Rouge-Bleu call for some interesting viticultural procedures. Jean-Marc’s latest post involves egg whites — don’t worry, they won’t end up in your bottle. Evidently, the albumin contained in egg whites aids in the clarifying process, and using them allows Jean-Marc to avoid too much filtration, which kills the natural sediments so vital to their natural wines.
What are the benefits of organic grape farming? Jean-Marc says that the combination of natural cultivation and harvesting at low yields allows the vines to produce their very best. The result will be good levels of alcohol, high levels of acidity, the right balance of sugar, and a promising aging.
Another term you’ll hear around Rouge-Bleu is biodynamic viticulture. It’s hard to define, as each grower will modify his practices to suit his needs, but it seems to go beyond organic farming. Biodynamic farming will also take into account timing, and, for example, apply certain soil applications according to traditional seasonal markers. A biodynamic approach to a vine disease, for instance, would be not to focus on how to kill the disease, but to ask why the plant is sick in the first place. There is something depleted in the soil, let’s fix the soil, instead of, there’s just something wrong with the vine. This makes sense, but biodynamic philosophy can also lead into mysticism, at which point I would depart.
Here’s a nice sampling of how Jean-Marc practically applies his farming philosophy:
Provence is an ideal location for wine making, as Jean-Marc is discovering. The Mistral, which is the strong, cold northwesterly wind that blows through southern France and into the Mediterranean, can be deadly; however, the dry Mistral winds minimize vine disease and can return health to the vineyard. The stony ground and soil rich in calcium carbonate is quite amenable to vines and little else. The Mediterranean climate is famously favorable to the vines.
If you have any questions about Rouge-Bleu, be sure to check in at Jean-Marc’s website. I think I’ll be asking how to get my hands on some bottles of the upcoming Dentelle Cuvée and also the Mistral, which is scheduled to be released later this year. If you live in Houston, Texas, you’re in luck — French Country Wines imports the Domaine Rouge-Bleu wines.
photo credits: Rouge-Bleu
Posted February 24th, 2008 by Jen in arts & crafts, book reviews, features, history, politics/world news, product review
10 Comments »
However, passing time and a view through a lens clarified by our own humanity is providing a fresh take on Rockwell. Are we not in need of art that springs from sentimentality about American values? Is there not a desperate call to understand the dignity of the common man? Isn’t this a time to celebrate democracy and the individual? Do we not need hope for our nation in the face of economic and international uncertainties? The engaging power of Norman Rockwell paintings are for such a time as this.
If one judges Norman Rockwell by popular appeal, he has always been wildly successful. Though derided by the art world, he was embraced by the people. Though his storyteller style was out of fashion in the modern, abstract art establishment, Rockwell was clearly understood. Rockwell wrote in 1936:
Rockwell was born in 1894 in New York. He was a prolific painter, producing over 4000 original works. It’s fitting that one of his first jobs was art editor for the Boy Scouts of America, and Rockwell’s annual contributions to the Boy Scouts’ calendars between 1925 and 1976 have earned him a permanent place in the hearts of millions. Steven Spielberg has said that Rockwell’s scouting paintings inspired him to pursue his life’s work.
Norman Rockwell was best known for his Saturday Evening Post covers, of which he painted hundreds over a period of 47 years. Of these, there are four from 1943 that are among his most famous and influential works. The Four Freedoms series, published in 1943, was inspired by president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech in which he set forth four principles for universal rights: Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, and Freedom from Fear. The wartime effect of the bold statements made by these powerful paintings cannot be underestimated.
Lest we forget what American life was like in the 20th century, we have Rockwell. We can remember the best of America and the worst of America, but always with benevolent affection. The everyday happenings of everyday people were the subject of most of his work, painted with accuracy and an appealing sense of tradition.
Posted February 10th, 2008 by Jen in arts & crafts, features, history
5 Comments »
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 to 1669) is one of the greatest painters in European early modern history, and is the most important Dutch painter ever. Just as with some major current artists — Prince, Madonna, Bono — one name has always been enough for him. Rembrandt is above all Dutch, and the Dutch have honored him through the centuries by preserving and protecting his work. The Dutch reverence for Rembrandt’s works reflects their own identity as tolerant and free-thinking, but fully nationalist, intellectuals.
His birthplace Leiden, a sophisticated and intellectual university town, claiming to have the most academic and research-oriented university in the Netherlands, today has a statue commemorating his life there. Rembrandt first opened a studio in Leiden in 1624, and never strayed too far from these roots.
Looking at Rembrandt’s most famous work, Night Watch (De Nachtwacht), is instructive for understanding this phenomenon – of Rembrandt and his work as an embodiment of what it means to be Dutch, even today. On display in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Night Watch was painted in 1642. It is, at first glance, an action shot, much like something that a modern newspaper photographer might capture. This is intensely modern, and a break from the earlier art focus on set pieces, stage scenes or portraits. It also resembles modern photography with its dramatic light and dark elements.
Night Watch is variously called a portrait of a militia company or portraits of several leading citizens in their roles as citizen-soldiers, or a portrait of local leaders in the set roles of protectors of the citizens. It was commissioned by a group of local leaders, as was the custom of the time.
But looking closer at Night Watch, you see something much more vibrant, modern and open-minded than a set group portrait of civic leaders. For example, in a place of prominence in the front and center is a child – a female child. For patriarchal society in 1600’s Netherlands, this was quite a departure.
This portrait, with its sense of motion captured in an instant, and its large crowd, complete with lights, drums, weapons, and other accessories, has a party verve – it’s almost a caricature of warlike behavior – as if the locals gathered in a party mode, and are putting on a show of militia behavior, and yet it’s not a war at all, and no one is taking it seriously. The presence of the girl front and center adds to this sensibility. It’s as if these locals are saying in this picture – here we are, and we are ready to be a militia if we have to be, but really we aren’t, and we are entirely too civilized to take it very seriously.
Night Watch down through the ages, along with the remembrance and legacy of Rembrandt in general, has lived a most interesting life with a jaunty air thoroughly in this original spirit. Early in her life, Night Watch suffered the ignomy of having her edges cut off, removing a number of townsfolk from the picture, for the simple reason that the picture was too big for its position on a wall (Night Watch remains a whopping 11 feet by 14 feet in size).
In the 1800’s the Netherlands, in deference to the continuing centrality of Rembrandt and his work, specifically built its new state museum with rooms to accommodate Night Watch and other Rembrandts. Since moving into its new quarters in 1885, Night Watch has left only three times – most dramatically when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. The Dutch, in preparation for the invasion, detached Night Watch from her frame, rolled her up, and hid her, as well as a number of other Dutch masters, in secure quarters under sand dunes near Limburg. Night Watch was hidden for several years, and restored to her prominence after the war, never having been found by the Nazis.
Night Watch was attacked a couple more times after World War II – not this time by a concerted invasion, but by mentally unstable individuals. Both attacks resulted in minor damage, which has been repaired.
Rembrandt remains central to Dutch identity, and a primary transitional painter into early modern times. His use of light and dark as intrinsic design elements, his willingness to flout earlier conventions of painting, his modern sensibilities in creating both action pictures and in individualistic portraits that resonate with more modern self-interest, all make him relevant to modern viewers, despite the passage of over three centuries.
This piece was written by my sister, Nancy Robinett. Nancy is a lawyer in Arizona and Washington and studied law at Leiden University in the Netherlands as part of her law school education. She has seen Night Watch in Amsterdam and highly recommends the experience to anyone traveling to Europe.
Posted February 3rd, 2008 by Jen in arts & crafts, features, history
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Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) exemplifies the Impressionism that emerged in France in the latter half of the 19th century. These artists were very concerned with every aspect of light and took to painting en plein air, outside the confines of their studios, in the midst of the ever-changing sunlight.
What many people don’t realized are the struggles of the Impressionist painters, who were critically mocked, shunned by their profession, and considered to be outrageous, lacking talent, and even anarchist, in their time.Success in the French art world was defined by acceptance at the Paris Salon, the greatest biannual art exhibition of its time. Art was expected to be refined, conservative, and in the Classical tradition of the Old Masters, drawing with clear, defined lines. The refreshing, lively approach of the Impressionist style should have flourished in the belle époque of France after the 1848 revolution, but the art establishment refused to make room.
Born in Limoges, France, to a working class family, Renoir worked as a boy in a porcelain factory and also painted hangings for overseas missionaries. In the early 1860s he began to study art under Charles Gleyre in Paris, where he met some artists who would be very influential in his Impressionist style: Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille.
These four men formed lasting friendships, and he painted with them in the Barbizon district, and met regularly with them and other painters of the Impressionist group at the Café Guerbois in the Batignolles region of Paris – animated discussions on art and literature could be heard there almost daily from around 1866-1870. Renoir’s relationship with Monet was particularly close during this time, and the two often painted together at La Grenouillère, a beautiful swimming spot along the Seine. As Renoir and Monet practiced painting light and water, they discovered that the color of shadows, rather than brown or black, was actually the reflected color of the surrounding objects.
During the 1860s, the Salon rejected so many submissions from Renoir and other Impressionist painters that an alternate exhibition was set up, the Salon des Refusés, where work refused by the Salon could be hung. The poverty of these painters was a shame, and at times during the 1860s, Renoir could not even afford paint. His work was considered crude and unfinished, and critics said he lacked the ability to draw. One particularly vicious critic had this to say about Renoir’s Nude in the Sunlight, painted in 1876:
Try to explain to M. Renoir that a woman’s torso is not a mass of flesh in the process of decomposition with green and violet spots which denote the state of complete putrefaction of a corpse!
The painting, in fact, was an elegant, sensual work which highlighted Renoir’s fascination with light and color.
Independent Impressionist exhibits were staged during the 1870s, and most were disastrous. Renoir, along with some other painters of the Impressionist group, became disheartened with the labels they were receiving, and by the early 1880s, the cohesiveness of the group dissolved, with many going their own ways. For Renoir, he focused on nudes and portraits, and felt that “he had gone to the end of Impressionism.”
By the late 1870s and 1880s, however, Renoir began to achieve some success. He painted from his garden at Montmartre, and then began to travel in the 1880s. He visited Algeria, Spain, and Italy. In 1883, at the island of Guernsey off the English Channel, he created 15 paintings in one month.
His later paintings were sometimes crisper, sometimes with duller coloring, but always timeless subjects, very accessible and appealing, and above all, with lovely women. “Why shouldn’t art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world.” And as a lover of the female form, he commented “I never think I have finished a nude until I think I could pinch it.”
In 1890, Renoir married Aline Victorine Charigot. The Renoirs had three sons. One son, Jean, became a filmmaker, another son, Pierre, became a stage and film actor. Many of his paintings after his marriage portray domestic scenes and family life.
Renoir began to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, and moved to the south of France around 1907, close to the warm air of the Mediterranean coast. Renoir continued painting during the last 20 years of his life, despite arthritis severely limiting his movement. He was wheelchair bound by 1912, but had a paintbrush strapped to his paralyzed fingers and kept at it.
Impressionism, like many ideas and many individuals not appreciated in their time, has now been judged by history as a tremendous, liberating movement. Renoir certainly did his part to influence both French painting and world art, and his influence in painting continues to this day in the use of loose brushwork, a feeling of movement and light, and the use of pure, bright colors.
Posted November 11th, 2007 by Jen in education, history, holidays
3 Comments »
My family is participating in the Veterans History Project as part of a homeschool history project. We will be interviewing a family friend who is a Vietnam veteran. You don’t have to submit the oral history you collect to the Project, but it’s really simple and would benefit us all if you’d be willing to contribute and help preserve these stories as part of America’s folklife.
The Veterans History Project is primarily focused on first-hand accounts of U.S. veterans from the following wars:
The Project also invites U.S. civilians to share their stories of their active support of the war efforts, such as war industry workers, USO workers, flight instructors, and medical volunteers.
The participation guidelines are straightforward, and includes a Veteran’s Release Form, which is included in the Project Kit. Only one interview, between 25-90 minutes long, is allowed per veteran or civilian interviewee.
Sample interview questions for veterans are available at the Project website, and are an invaluable resource! The questions are divided into segments, making it easy to conduct interviews in sessions if required: Jogging Memory, Experiences, Life, After Service, and Later Years and Closing. “Do you recall the day your service ended?” is a question I’m sure all veterans will have no trouble recollecting.
This weekend my children were in two different Veterans Day parades. My son, who is a Cub Scout, marched with his troop in the neighboring town on Saturday, and my daughter, who is a Brownie (Girl Scout), marched with her troop on Sunday in our town. I took several photos of veterans who lined the streets with the other parade watchers, and I so wish I could have sat down with them all right there and heard their stories! Here are some of my favorite shots:
A World War II veteran:
Two Vietnam veterans:
Navy Lieutenant Commander, veteran of WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War:
Since I walked the parade route, I only had time to stop and ask permission to take a photo, and thank these men for their service to our country. From this last fellow, though, I had the privilege of hearing a snippet about his thirty year military career.
No matter where your politics lie in regard to war, please be pro-veteran. Someone handed my husband a card which said Pro-Troop. War-Neutral. That’s a nice non-partisan way to honor our military men and women.
Please let me know if you participate in the Veterans History Project!