Monthly Archives: June 2015

Beyond the Monument’s Men

Last year, one of the books I read was The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel, a true story that I probably never would have heard about were it not for a Rick Steves podcast. The way I described this book in one word last year—the best book I read all year—incredible. And if you’ve only seen the movie of the same name, I can say you got but a small snippet of the full story.

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A lot has been written about Adolf Hitler and the atrocities he carried out but this is the first I had read of his mad lust for art. Concurrent with the pillaging of towns and villages was the looting of works of art—many of them incredibly famous. Driven by the desire to build the world’s best art museum in his hometown of Linz, Austria, Hitler had numerous soldiers collecting and shipping artwork to the Fatherland.

As the tide of the war began to turn and occupied cities were liberated, it was the job of the Monuments Men to recover and return the stolen works of art. Aided by Rose Valland, an unpaid volunteer at the Jeu de Paume museum, adjacent to the Louvre in Paris, she was witness to Hitler’s selection of art for his collection and secretly kept records that proved key to the uncovering of this art in the world’s greatest treasure hunt. Having been to the Orsay museum in Paris this past year, I often had to pause in front of a painting to appreciate that the work of art I was viewing was there for me to see only through the efforts of these brave men and women who risked their lives to save these treasures for future generations to enjoy.

This year, my appreciation for the work these individuals did, and others trying to safe guard art from the pillagers of war, was elevated even more in an unexpected way.

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During my recent trip to Amsterdam, one of the museums I visited with my three siblings was the Stedelijk Modern Art Museum. The main focus of all four of us was the special Matisse exhibit they had.

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Since I had been to this museum with my wife the previous year, I didn’t spend too much time looking through those parts of the museum I had seen the year before. A few days later after my brother and sisters left for Belgium and my wife and her sister joined me, the Stedelijk was one of the museums they wanted to see. Having only been there a few days before, I spent a good part of my time in the museum café drinking a beer.

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When I entered the museum to find my wife and her sister, I discovered that they had found another special exhibit I had totally missed just a few days before, this one marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Holland in May 1945. When I rounded the corner, I came face to face with this unsettling photo.

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Having just visited the Anne Frank house, the German occupation of Holland was already fresh on my mind. But seeing this photo of German troops marching in the Museumplein (museum square) took the stark reality of this period to a whole new level (that is the Concertgebouw Music hall off to the right). Part of the exhibit included photos and film clips of the Dutch exploding the concrete bunkers the Germans had built inside Amsterdam. But when I found the portion of the exhibit related to the Dutch efforts to hide pieces of art and the men who helped return it, I became enthralled.

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This photo in the exhibit shows how the paintings were stored in the bunker near Castricium. It is absolutely amazing the dangerous efforts that were undertaken to safeguard these pieces of art.

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Were it not for the efforts of Stedelijk curator Willem Sandberg to build this bunker and his work with the local museums to hide them, these incredibly familiar and priceless pieces of art may have been lost forever and for those of us born after World War II, would have only had photos to see them.

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With so many pieces of art to protect, a clever color system was developed and art was categorized into three classes, basically: critical, important, desirable. Colored dots, white, red, and blue (the colors of the Dutch flag) were then painted on the back of the paintings to designate its category. The most efforts were then spent on putting the top two categories into hiding.

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This bunker housed works of Van Gogh, Matisse, and for a time, even Rembrandt’s Night Watch from the Rijks Museum, rolled up like a carpet.

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Hans Jaffé, a Monuments Man working under Stedelijk director Sandberg

Thanks to my wife and her sister, me finding this exhibit at the Stedelijk was a incredible and unexpected treat and gave me an even greater appreciation for not just the Monument’s Men, but the other men and women who risked their lives to save these art treasures.

 

Dad’s Sermons

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As I reflect back over my dad’s 40 years of active service as a Presbyterian minister, it is incredible to me to think that he wrote and delivered over 2,000 sermons. I have no idea if he had “reruns” or reworked earlier sermons with new insight, but that is just amazing that each week, he authored a spiritual message to convey to the congregation every Sunday morning. I have been publishing a blog post every Sunday morning for just over two years and while at times it has been challenging to keep up with everything going on in my life, my efforts pale in comparison to my dad’s.

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I obviously heard a lot of these sermons growing up. At least all the way through high school as well as frequently during college, you would find me sitting in a pew with my mom listening to his messages. For to miss church, we had to be deathly ill.

Looking through my dad’s Bible recently got me thinking about some of those sermons as I found underlined Bible passages and wondered what sermon this notation might have inspired.

Sometime after Dad died, my sister gave me a book of 32 of his typed sermons. I recently found that on my bookcase when I was perusing the bookshelves looking for another book. I had completely forgotten I had it.

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Scanning the list of titles, annotated with the Bible passage upon which the topic was based, I didn’t know if this represented his top 32 sermons or just those that had been found among his papers when we were cleaning out after his death.

Midway down the table of contents, I ran across a title I distinctly remembered, “Tapped by Mistake”—a memory vivid for me because I was there when my dad was tapped by mistake.

The beginning of his sermon set the stage for what happened. It was in the summer of 1964 at Camp Kiroli Boy Scout Camp in West Monroe, Louisiana. I don’t really know why we were there because neither my brother nor I was old enough for Boy Scouts. But I know scouts from our church had been there so it must have been one of my dad’s “church duties” to attend the closing ceremony of summer camp.

When it came time to select the candidates for the “Order of the Arrow,” warriors dressed in Indian garb began walking through the crowd. I distinctly remember the warriors coming close to us and then stopping next to us. From behind my dad, one of the warriors brought a heavy hand down on his shoulder and commanded him to rise. He did so obediently.

As he followed the warriors down to the stage, my dad wondered what he had done to deserve such an honor, an honor for which he couldn’t come up with a reason. Moments later, my dad was relieved to see that the assistant scout master from our church’s troop, who had been sitting next to my dad, was also selected. As all the selected candidates made their way out of the fire ring to begin their Ordeal, the chief pulled my dad from the line and admitted he had made a mistake in selecting him. With relief, my dad returned to us as the camp program closed.

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While I vividly remembered this event and my dad giving a sermon on it, I failed to recall beyond this story what the sermon was about. The message my dad interwove with this real life event was how Jesus selected the twelve disciples, a group of unlikely candidates. While my dad had been tapped by mistake, my dad proclaimed these twelve, no matter how undeserving they might have seemed at the time, were no mistake.

Throughout the sermon, Dad returned to his experience that night sharing details that correlated to the Biblical story. As I read, I focused hard to be sure that I grasped the three main points of the sermon for I remember my dad saying that all good sermons made three main points. Sure enough, he did.

After reading the sermon, I realized how fortunate I was to have these written words. So often in hearing his sermons, my mind would wander, and I would miss one of the main points of the sermon. With these typed sermons, I can now go back and reread to ensure I get the full intent of his message.

Reading this one sermon made me realize that I would have to go back and read all of the sermons in the book. While this first one I immediately recognized by its title, none of the others seemed familiar. But I suspect as I read them, all of a sudden a phrase or sentence will strike a memory chord that will take me back to that pew where I heard my dad utter those words. And for a moment, I’ll happily picture my dad, alive again, speaking those words as I reflect on the message he gave so many years ago, and now renewed through the reading of his missive.

Dad’s Bible

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At least a year ago, maybe longer, my sister gave me our dad’s Bible that she had had since he died over a dozen years ago. And for most of that year in my possession, his Bible has been sitting on this chair in the room in our house where I write most of my blog posts. Recently, I picked it up and started flipping through it.

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Consistent with its ragged appearance, I learned that this Bible dates back to my dad’s first church following his graduation from seminary over 60 years ago. Inscribed inside the first page are his name and the name of that first church—Tallulah Presbyterian Church in Tallulah, Louisiana.

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I noticed on the table of contents page, Dad has bracketed some of the books into categories.

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As I flipped over a few more pages, I began to find passages underlined in pencil, sometimes with notes jotted down in the margin.

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I quickly realized this was not a family Bible that sat on a bookshelf seldom to be taken down; no, this was a working Bible, a Bible that probably sat close by on his desk for easy access as he prepared his weekly sermons.

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Chills washed over me as I continued to turn pages. Each time I came across an underlined scripture or a hand written note, I wondered what thoughts had gone through my dad’s mind as he poured over that passage. Interestingly, I found very few passages underlined in the section of the Bible Dad had labeled “History.” Maybe he chose not to delve too much into the history books in his sermons.

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When I reached Psalms, I found a multitude of Dad’s pencil underlinings. Dad must have received much inspiration for his sermons from these passages. And occasionally, I would find a penciled note in the margin with quotation marks around it. I wondered if this might be a working title for one of his sermons?

Through the rest of the Old Testament, there were only occasional books where Dad had pondered over a passage long enough to leave his pencil marks. But when I got to the New Testament, it was rare to find a page that didn’t have some underlining on it. And when I came to Jesus’s parable in Matthew about the sower where seed fell in multiple places with dissimilar outcomes, I found a hand written note in the margin that read: “Seed = word of God.” I was immediately taken back to the sermon Dad gave on this when I was young and heard him say that for the first time. It was a new understanding for me then and it is an understanding that has remained with me ever since.

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As I flipped over several more pages, I began to run across passages underlined that I remembered from his sermons over 40 years ago. It was as if he was speaking to me again through his notes—notes that have lived on beyond him.

Chills flooded over me again as I began to realize that a part of my dad was still inside that Bible, captured on the thin, frail pages. It was as if my dad had been sitting silently with me over the past year and I didn’t even realize it. I sadly learned too late what a great man my dad was from the wonderful comments made about him to me by former church members at his funeral. Other than Sunday morning, I never saw my Dad doing his “job” of being a minister to all those in need in his church. But it is a knowledge that I have since recognized was no doubt a part of my subconscious since I have chosen to live my life emulating my dad—as a loving, caring, kind, gentle and hard working man.

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With the realization that a part of my dad is still in among those fragile pages, his Bible has found a new home—at the side of my desk where it is again in easy reach—just like it was for my dad. I know now after discovering the hidden treasures inside it that I will have to make a much more thorough perusal of his Bible, page by page to recall other lessons I have learned from my dad. And to hear him silently speak to me again, after all the years he has been gone.

A Lifetime of Music

I guess over their lifetime, most everyone goes through a number of phases of liking different styles of music. And I am probably no different than many of you. Over the years, my taste for music has changed and today I enjoy the broadest spectrum of music that I have at any other time in my life. This spectrum has developed over my entire life so let’s take a stroll down my musical memory lane.

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My earliest recollections of listening to music are from the 1960s when I was in my single digit years (a long time ago). Having two older sisters, I was exposed to the music they were listening to at the time either on the radio or the vinyl albums they purchased. And the artists they were listening to, at least the ones I also enjoyed were the Beatles (obviously), Herman’s Hermits, and later, the Monkees. This was in stark contrast to the music my mother was listening to at the time, which was classical music.

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As I grew older I continued to add other bands of similar genre.

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By the time I was in high school, my favorites bands included Boston, Billy Joel, Todd Rundgren, Elton John, Chicago, Electric Light Orchestra, Olivia Newton John, The Beach Boys, America, Steely Dan, and Simon and Garfunkel. These same bands carried with me into college and expanded to add others as well, but pretty much the same genre. That is until I took a music appreciation course in college and had “drop the needle” tests.

This class focused on introducing us to some of the more well-known classical music composers. And so to do well in the class, I had to listen for hours to the assigned pieces, many of them part of a basic repertoire for someone becoming familiar with classical music. My mother was delighted and shared with me some of her favorites pieces as well such as Rachmaninoff, Pachelbel, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Mendelssohn

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At the time, I worked part-time at a local department store and had a friend who also introduced me to some of his favorite classical music composers. When I discovered our local NPR station played classical music for much of the day, I began to listen to that station and learned about even more musicians. A joy I would experience many years later was to hear a classical music performance inside the Concert Gebouw Orchestra hall in Amsterdam, the hall where many of these same composers played their own music.

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At this stage of my life I would either listen to classical music or rock music and would go to live performances of either one. I saw Billy Joel, Todd Rundgren, the Beach Boys, and America in concert, these last two in the same concert. And the highlight of my classical performances was seeing Andre Watts’ agile fingers flying across the keyboard as he played a beautiful Piano concerto.

I was basically pretty satisfied with my diversity of music. I would listen to classical music—instrumental only music—if I were concentrating on something or reading, activities requiring my full mental attention.   And I would listen to rock music—mostly vocal music—if I were working with my hands or driving a car, activities that hearing words sung would not be a distraction to my thought process.

Then one day after I was married and had children, I was in a shop at a local mall when I heard for the first time New Age Music.

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The album playing was Polar Shift and it was a compilation of a number of different artists. The piece that was playing was hauntingly beautiful and combined aspects of classical music with more modern sounds and instruments. Using this one album as my guide, I expanded my list of favorite artists to include Yanni, Enya, Suzanne Ciani, and David Lanz. This music became my “go to” music and replaced me listening to classical and rock since with this one genre, there were solely instrumental artists as well as vocal artists. The highlight of this music era was one year for my birthday; my daughter gave us tickets to go see Yanni in concert in our town. It was an amazing concert of some of the most beautiful music I loved although the local newspaper panned the concert claiming it was a yawn-ee performance.

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While I would listen mostly to New Age music and developed an ever-expanding collection of CDs, I would also go back to my roots and listen to Classical and Rock on occasion. Then one night with some friends that we regularly got together with for dinner, my friend was playing some jazz music while we awaited everyone’s arrival for dinner. I don’t recall what the piece was but I recall I really liked it. Up until then, I new of jazz music but didn’t own any and didn’t listen to it on the radio. My friend shared with me a collection of musicians that he had. I went home that night loaded with a stack of CDs to listen to in the car to get acquainted with jazz music.

As we continued to get together for dinner, he shared with me other CDs and told me about other artists to explore. At the time, Borders (now closed) had a huge selection of a number of different genres of music. And they highlighted certain recordings as being part of a basic repertoire for each genre. I started to collect those and to expand my list of favorite artists. I found that as with classical music, I really enjoyed piano jazz music and collected Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, and Diana Krall. I also enjoyed Saxophone jazz and collected recordings by Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Ben Webster and Gerry Mulligan.

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One day when I was in Amsterdam getting acclimated to the seven-hour time loss, I ran across a billboard that advertised Dave Brubeck playing at the Concert Gebouw Orchestra hall. I couldn’t believe my luck at being in Amsterdam on the day he was performing. I hustled over to box office only to discover the concert was sold out. What an experience it would have been to hear Dave play the music I love in a building with incredible acoustics. But it was not to be (I did years later get to hear Dave with his two sons at a local concert when he had just turned 88 years old).

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Since discovering jazz music, I have continued to expand my collection and now own over 65 albums. I have my favorites in both vocal and instrumental artists and listen to instrumental when I am focusing on writing or reading at work and vocal at other times. It is the music that has replaced classical that I play all day long at work. In fact, I have become known for my jazz music at work for whenever I call into teleconferences, I am always recognized when the jazz music is heard in the background.

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With jazz as my predominant music choice now, I still try other genres as well and will occasionally listen to blue grass or folk. Probably the only music I never listen to is Country or Elvis (in spite of living in Memphis). I have to talk on the phone a lot at work so I don’t do it that much in my personal life. But if I do happen to give you a call one day and you hear jazz music playing in the background, you’ll know it’s me even before I say hello.

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