Travel

Our Visit To Antarctica

We just returned from the beautiful black and white frozen world of Antarctica. We sailed from Valparaiso, Chile aboard the Holland America ship the Zaandam. Our route took us along the coast to Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southern most city on earth, our last port before departing for a week in the Antarctic. The Alacalufe people who settled the area lived nude. They stayed warm by covering themselves with whale oil.

Sailing through the Straights of Magellan our route took us through Glacier Alley and past Cape Horn. It technically isn’t a cape in that a cape is a projection of a land mass and the horn is simply the end of Horn Island. Here more seamen have died that any place on earth. In 1905 there were 105 ships lost here. At this point we passed back and forth across the dividing point where the Atlantic and the Pacific meet. Each time we crossed the captain sounded the ships horn.

The next eventful six days we glided among icebergs, some more that 150 feet in height and larger than the Zaandam. Among the abundant wildlife we saw seven varieties of whales, three vanities of seals, nine kinds of albatrosses, and seven kinds of penguins.

Our first sighting of a penguin rookery was amazing with over 5,000 pairs. Soon we saw rookeries 10,000, 100,000 and the largest 125,000 pairs. Neighbors, but set apart were Magellanic, Adelie, King, Emperors, Chinstrap, Rockhoppers, and Gentoo.

A phenomenal act of nature seldom observed occurred within a hundred yards of our ship as a pod of twelve Killer whales attacked, killed , and devoured in a feeding frenzy a baby Humpback whale estimated to weigh two tons.

We were fortunate to have on board as lecturers two world renown Antarctic authorities, both of whom had spent decades visiting and working in this frozen world. As additional sources of information twelve members of the American Palmer Station came out on Zodiac to share. America has three stations in Antarctica: Palmer, McMurdo, and South Pole.

Guy Guthridge spend 35 years with the National Science Foundation and was the engineer who oversaw the 1,000 mile ice road from McMurdo to South Pole which required four years. Also lecturing was Chris Wilson, also a long time member of the NSF with years of Polar experience who was instrumental in some of the more important biological experiments at the Pole.

In conversations with them I learned they believe in global warming. Now I do also. However, I don’t’ share their belief that it is man cause. I believe it is part of a natural cycle. The Polar Peninsula has warmed 6 degrees in the last sixty years. I asked if there was a part of the Antarctic where ice was increasing. They said it is on the east coast of the continent. The reason is the melt on the west side puts more moisture in the atmosphere that produces precipitation on the east side causing the build up. That seems more like a shift.

As a chaplain for Holland America I spoke eight times and conducted my first burial at sea on this cruise. Last year on a similar assignment we went to the northern most city of Europe in the Arctic Circle. The Bible speaks of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth and I now have done it.

As a child I was enthralled by the study of such far away places as the Straights of Magellan, Beagle Channel, Cape Horn, Drake Passage and the Antarctic. Having now been there, they comprise a vivid memory. Therein are these further thoughts.

The waters at the tip of South America where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet is considered the roughest in the world. The fifteen foot waves we experienced were enough for me, but no means major for the region. This coupled with the icebergs, bergies, and growlers made for excitement. To be classified as an iceberg one has to stand a minimum of 16.5 feet above the sea. A bergie is less in height, but more than three feet above water. A growler is less than three feet.

Compounding these challenges ours was the last passenger ship of the season in these waters which were already beginning to freeze over. All this made for an exhilarating voyage.

Penguins, which abound, though in some regions they are threatened by climate change, are fascinating. Not all line up and march great distances across the ice to nesting sights like the Emperor penguins in “March of the Penguins.” Some burrow in the ground and nest in seclusion. Some build their nest out of rocks.

Insights into the South Pole defied some of my preconceptions. I had never heard of the Polar Plateau. Its summit is over 9,200 feet above sea level. The South Pole does not move, but each new year the post marking its location has to be reset in that the shifting ice moves the marker about 30 feet. To actually get to the Pole requires a flight of slightly more than two hours from Ushuaia, Argentina that costs $3,000 and only one third of the flights get to make it. There is no cancellation refund.

The National Science Foundation South Pole Station houses 150 in summer and 25 in winter. Most of the year’s supply comes in on one ship each year. The staff eats well. Weather permitting staff members have an annual race around the South Pole.

The buildings are an engineering marvel. Snow drifts build up around buildings, eventually covering them. Current facilities are built on telescopic stilts which can elevate the entire facility ten feet twice, thus extending the life of the facility to over thirty years. They have to be able to stand winds up to 160 mph. The average January temperature is minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit though it gets much colder. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica was -128.6 F at Russia’s Vostok Station, July 21, 1983.

Staff members have a gym, library, spacious dining hall, extensive kitchen, and very nice living quarters.

All waste matter is removed from Antarctica, even the rinse water from washing the dishes. Over five million tons a year come out to California to be recycled. Almost all food comes by boat. Ships entering polar waters have to use a special light weight diesel in the event there is a leak. No heavy fuels can be on board.

Thirty nations are active signatories of the Antarctic Treaty. Serving as chaplain on a Holland America cruise to Antarctica, I have had the good fortune of conversations with some of the foremost scientists conducting experiments there. Their dedication to their isolation is admirable. Many conclude that when the Lord made “heaven and earth and the sea” He did a masterful job. Our visit to Antarctica leads to the same conclusion.

Our recent visit to Antarctica provided insight into a frozen world. The beauty and distinctive character of the terrain kept our minds off the challenge of navigating the area. There were days our ship had to reverse and reroute due to ice having closed the intended channel. At other times we changed course because winds in the intended channel were to strong. It was a learning experience like few others. Some little know facts about Antarctica are:

The Ice Fish has no hemoglobin. It has antifreeze instead, thus it can live in these cold waters.
The animal with the largest brain of any on earth, the sperm whale, lives here. Its brain weighs approximately 20 pounds. It is also the deepest diving of all whales with the capacity of diving 3,300 feet.
There are sub-surface mountains, lakes and rivers in Antarctica.
Two-thirds of the ammonia in earth’s atmosphere is produced by penguins.
The shoreline of many of the islands and parts of the continent gives the appearance the water line has dropped many feet. The opposite is true. The melting on the large glaciers that once covered many areas has melted and the removal of the weight has caused the land mass to rise.
The marker noting the exact South Pole moves about thirty feet per year as a result of the shifting ice and has to be returned to the true Pole center each new year.
October 31, 1956 the first airplane landed at the South Pole.
Lockheed specially equipped C-130s and C-17s provide the primary survival links to the outside world. They are equipped with a unique landing gear and sleds instead of wheels. After parking on the ice for a while if the ice is seen to be sagging, they are relocated.
Workers stationed at the Pole have an annual race around the Pole. They celebrate all holidays and weather permitting play ice games outdoors at times.
Women constitute thirty percent of workers at the South Pole.
Antarctica once had plant and animal life. Fossils are found at scattered sights.
Cape Horn isn’t really a horn. A “horn” is defined as a projection of land and the mountain called Cape Horn is merely the end of Horn Island. Early sailors misnamed it cape.
The classic poem “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” was inspired by the waters around the Horn.
The polar plateau is 9,200 feet in height.
Antarctica constitutes 90 percent of earth’s natural ice. Less than one percent of the continent is ice free. At one point the ice is one and one-half miles thick.
At times it is so cold that if boiling water is thrown in the air it vaporizes.
A compass at the South Pole shows only north, there is no east and west.. Planes have to navigate by coordinates.
In 1978 the first human baby known to be born in Antarctica arrived.
Inability to get out of Antarctica during one hard winter resulted in the resident doctor removing his own appendix with the aid of mirrors.
Some ice is blue and some pink. Age, size, and weight filter out certain light wave links causing this phenomenon.
Antarctica displays the grandeur of the Creator’s capacity to ice sculpture.
The renowned seaman Earnest Shackelford, who sailed these seas, said Antarctica reveals the soul of man. It also displays the grandeur of the Creators capacity to ice sculpture.

Where am I?

I am at 71° 10′ 21″ N deep in the Arctic Circle among the Sami people. Here in the Land of the Mid-night Sun I have just sailed by the North Cape, (Nordkapp), the northern most point in Europe. The North Cape is a captivating large stone mountain that rises 1,000 feet above the North Sea.

At this season of the year the earth is tilted on its axis providing the Summer Solstice. Sunset: 12:00 PM and sunrise: 12:00 AM allowing twenty-four hour days with no nights. The people who live here maintain their same schedules all year long without considering if there are 24 hours of daylight or dark.

Nearby is Hammingsvag, Norway, the northern most city in Europe. Here only the Svalbard Islands are between you and the North Pole. As a chaplain for Holland America Cruise Lines I sailed here on the Ryadam. The journey involved 4,000 miles of sailing from Dover, England along the coast of Norway through open seas and beautiful narrow fjords. Along the way of this fourteen day journey were intermittent stops at lovely Norwegian cities and small ports tucked away at the end of narrow fjords.

First mention of the Sami people was in AD 98 by the Roman senator, orator, and historian Tactius. The Sami are indigenous to Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and part of Russia. Years ago as immigrants began to move into their region in order to change them the interlopers found the Sami lifestyle so appealing they adapted to it. For years they have been know as “the reindeer people” because of being reindeer herdsmen. By invitation they introduced reindeer ranching to Alaska. They have their own language and parliament that presides over them in the parts of the four nations they inhabit. On a broad scale the Sami have embraced Christianity.

Because of the northern location of Samiland, also known as Lappland, at certain seasons they enjoy the beautiful spectacle of the northern lights known as the aurora borealis. It is nature’s best light show.

The region is also known for having what is called fata morgana. As used by the people of the region the term describes a strange phenomena caused by the pure cool rarified air of the region. It results in objects appearing to be much closer than they are. It gives a two dimensional view with no depth, thus a flat appearance distorting distances. It is a mirage effect.

Norway was for years considered one of Europe’s poorest countries. In the early 1960s oil exploration was begun which resulted in the first strike in 1996. Production began in 1998, transforming the country into one of the most prosperous in Europe. We sailed through vast areas of the North Sea that was dotted with oil rigs. Vast oil and gas refineries are located along the countries long seacoast. They are using the latest technology to insure safety and avoid disasters such as the Alexander Kielland disaster in 1980, that killed 123 people.

Large artistic roadways cross the country. Numerous tunnels along the way can be seen that make villages formerly inaccessible by land open to the interior. Many of these are more than a mile long.

Norway can serve as an example to America as to what indigenous oil and gas can do for a nation’s economy without a threat to the environment and people.

Colorful Colorado

Entering the domain of nature in Colorado around the time of the Autumnale Equinox is like entering the territory of dreams. These timeless mountains give the feeling of walking through another dimension. Fall and winter are having their honeymoon. The old season is slowly acceding to the new. The landscape seems to settle into a quiet that will blanket it for months.

These mountains hold secrets silently. Deep history steeped in lore brings to mind the outlaw life of men of this land, such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, whose relatives still live here. As with most myths and legends your imagination can be transported into the timeless past. This is a conclave of the mystical and historical.

From brushy draws to timbered mountain tops the sound of bugling elks echo through the eastern sky. Of all the sounds that elevate one’s soul the most beautiful is silence.

Some views are made all the more resplendent because they are paid for by cold sweat even in the snow. Getting here is a pilgrimage. Mountains grace the horizon. The summit gives up an unforgettable view of untracked vastness. Here your eyes can feast on a mosaic of red, yellow, garnet, and gold. These windows into the region, wild and serene, give occasion to pause and allow your mood to be governed by the views around you. This is a place of the heart.

Even the grays, as artist Guzman noted, form a couch on which all color sits. If you don’t have the grays, you can’t get the luminosity of the colors. There is a life’s lesson there.

The cold temperature gives the lungs a cryovac-like sensation. You know nature is about to engage in a slow slumber. It is worth every effort to avoid missing a single moment of this fading beauty which can be taken with you in the encroaching colorless days. As autumn and winter struggle for mastery of each day, it is obvious winter will prevail.

My spirit experienced two contrasting emotions simultaneously. Elation and humility found occasion to be compatible. The result was lines from “America the Beautiful” flowing though my mind.

“For purple mountains majesties above the fruited plain! …
“God shed His grace on thee and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea…
“God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul with self-control, thy liberty in law! …
“God shed His grace on thee till selfish gain no longer stain the banner of the free!”

I came to this country hunting wild game and found far more. In this remote region where antique machinery rusts and buildings decay I found treasures far greater than the gold extracted from these hills. The treasured thoughts deposited in my memory bank will pay dividends all of my life.

And then the hunt! Few things compare to the comradery of hunters gathered in the early morning just before individually embarking on what each is certain will be a successful adventure. Hydrated and happy they sally forth often to return only
with a cachet of memories —- good ones.

So inspired my soul, if not my body, will scale these heights many times.

Find your own quiet place, any place and let your spirit soar. Do it often. There is strength and stability in serenity.

Magnificent Montana

To be in an idyllic place for an ideal purpose is to be twice blessed. Such has recently been the experience of my wife and me. First the place.

For ten days we have retreated to Montana on the eastern slope of the western continental divide. The beautiful home made of antique reclaimed logs riparian on the chortling Big Hole River, one of Montana’s blue ribbon trout streams.

Here deep history is steeped with lore. Nearby is the only place Lewis and Clark on their national epoch exploration are known to have stood. The Beaverhead Rock which when seen by native American Sacagawea on August 8, 1805, as she guided the Lewis and Clark expedition identified the area where her native tribe spent their summers. The battlefield where General John Gibbon mercilessly attacked Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce in 1877 is also close by. Tipi rings and buffalo jumps are reminders of a bygone era.

Majestic and historical conclaves abound. Ghost towns dot the high plains harboring hidden history, and the spirit of classic pioneer communities such as Bannack, Virginia City, and Nevada City. All served as capitol during their gold rush era.

Mt. McCartney, the tallest free standing mountain in North America, keeps guard on the ranch. From the slopes of the mountain indigenous animals view the Hilton Head size ranch. Along the river in the marshes moose browse while on the high desert the deer and antelope play. On the mountain ridges two large herds of elk graze. Bald and Golden eagles sore overhead while pelicans, yes pelicans, glide along the river’s surface. The primordial cackle of Sandhill cranes pierce the air. Bears, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions are often seen and heard. The flora adds to the monochromic landscape: Lupine, Indian Paintbrush, Columbine, and Arnica abound.

Fifteen feet drift boats with full rowing/fishing frames float the highly fishable waters of the storied Big Hole River.

Now the purpose. This is a place one’s spiritual self meets God’s glorious earth. The more the conscious mind becomes captured by the beauty around you the freer the subconscious is liberated for creative contemplation. The setting gives occasion to explore oneself on an introspective journey inward. Here elevated thoughts can breath freely.

For several years I have taken student athletes and coaches from Shorter University to Montana for a week of Christian leadership training. When I was Chairman of the National Board of the Fellowship Athletes my friend Harvey Gainey who was Vice Chairman from Grand Rapids, Michigan established the ranch. He developed a large part of it as a Christian retreat. At his expense he provides a free week for students from thirteen universities.

Among Shorter athletes attending were members of our men’s basketball team that finished the season number one in the nation, our three time National Champion cheerleader squad, our National Champion Girl’s Softball team, members of our men’s indoor and outdoor National Championship track team, and our girl’s basketball team that finished with the second highest GPA in the NAIA in the nation.

The purpose is to equip these athletes to inspire and encourage faith among teammates and all students. They are intended to be spiritual catalysts on campus.

Ensconced in the mystique of the old west the majesty of God elevates one’s spirit.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Robert Leroy Parker, AKA Butch Cassidy, and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, AKA the Sundance Kid, were immortalized in the film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” featuring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Reality immoralizes them.

Lonabaugh got his name from the ranch where he stole his first gun, horse, and saddle in Sundance, Wyoming. He adopted the name while serving his prison sentence for the robbery. Parker got his name as a result of having been a butcher. Recently I visited one area where the two hung out for a time and visited with relatives of Cassidy. The area is known as Brown’s Park or Hole located in the northwest corner of Colorado bordering Wyoming and Utah along the Green River.

What follows is mostly their account of their outlaw ancestors. According to them they were not killers, but for a time were members of the “Wild Bunch, many members of which were killers. They liked the area for many reasons. One was they could easily move from state to state and wait for things to cool off in the vacated area before returning. Repeatedly they were not killers, but ranch hands and robbers. They would not steal from people who employed them. As a result ranchers were willing to pay them top dollar to work for them. People in the area were intrigued by them and looked after them. If a lawman was coming to the area local citizens would warn them and they would hide out in the vastness of Brown’s Hole.

Out of gratitude Butch and Sundance would throw a big Thanksgiving feast for the community going to the extreme of importing exotic foods such as oysters and other seafood. Relatives give this account of their demise which is contrary to the film.

The movie depicts them as being killed in a shootout in Bolivia. Not so, say relatives. They assert they never went to Bolivia. It was a time when photos and printing presses were not common so their profile was not well known. However, there were a couple of men who passed themselves off as Butch and Sundance. Using the stolen image they got a lot of favors because of their popularity. They are the two who went to Bolivia and were shot in the gunfight.

Relatives tell of Sundance and Butch being seen in America several times after the Bolivia shootings. Again this is the story of relatives. The real Butch and Sundance reputedly lived out their days and are buried in the state of Oregon. I report — you decide. The notoriety of these two has made them old west icons. In reality they were bad dudes who were an embarrassment and grief to their families.

The mother of Cassidy is described by relatives as weeping over her outlaw son as she worked in the field. There is little or no pride in them among relatives today. It is a strange thing that we tend to lionize our villains and demonize our virtuous heroes.

Think about that including those who are alive today.

Paul and the Greek Poets

You never know what lesson you are learning today will mean for you tomorrow. A classic example involved one of my favorite Bible characters, Rabban Gamaliel I., a prestigious scholar and member of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

Historians record that as a teacher he insisted that his students study the Greek poets. Imagine a young student thinking, “What’s with this? Why should I a Jewish boy with Roman citizenship have to study Greek poetry?” From his perspective that would have been good logic.

Recently I stood on Mars Hill in Athens, Greece where that lesson proved to be very valuable for that young student named Paul. In Israel Paul could quote Old Testament passages and the people understood where he was coming from.

Later he went to the cultural center, Athens. The people there knew nothing of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Near the base of the Parthenon crowned Acropolis is the small hill known as Mars Hill. Here on the occasion of the meeting of the Areopagus Paul addressed a crowd described as, “All the Athenians and foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking and listening to the latest ideas?”

Along the pathway leading up Mars Hill were statues to various gods and goddesses. All were well identified. Just incase they had overlooked one, they had a statue dedicated to “the unknown God.”

The Greeks were devotees of their poets. Seizing the moment Paul addressed the crown saying, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Lock on. They knew Paul was quoting from two of their favorite poets, Aratus and Epimenides. Gamaliel had saved the day. Paul got his audience and the gospel spread.In that day as in this people have different opinions regarding the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was one who spread the news broadly. Recently sailing the Aegean Isles locals share another means of the discrimination. On most of the islands were Jewish colonies expectantly looking for Messiah.

Many Jews were made Roman slaves and forced to be oarsmen on slave ships. They had been in Jerusalem and knew the promise of peace and hope offered by Jesus. Their pain and drudgery was made easier by the hope they had of a better heavenly home as a result. They believed in Him as Messiah.

As they forcefully were made to power the ships around the sea, they encountered Jewish communities expecting the Messiah. Many in these colonies joined in sharing their belief and thus through persecution the word spread.

By academic and enslaved spokesmen the word spread. Rome intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.

There are still persons on both sides of this vital issue. This is merely a historical perspective of how many came to believe.

Troy: The Trojan Horse is Still There

While cruising the Greek Islands and surrounding area we visited sights of two great battles, one historical and the other mythological. Each has lessons to teach us.

Our port of call was Canakkale, Turkey near the Dardanelle coast which has territory in both Europe and Asia. It is the city nearest the sight of ancient Troy. The “wooden horse” from the 2004 movie “Troy” is exhibited in Canakkale.

Troy is the sight of much of Homer’s epic “Illiad.” This classical work is considered by many to be a splendid embellishment of deeds of piracy and war carried out by Greek ships on the Anatolian coast in the 13th century B.C.

In the narrative Paris kidnaped Helen, the wife of Menelaus, and carried her to Troy and married her. The Greek Menelaus brought a coalescent army to avenge the honor of Helen. After an unsuccessful siege of Troy Menelaus devised a clever strategy. He had build a large wooden horse which was placed outside the city gates during the night. When the citizens awoke and noted the Greek fleet had gone away they assumed victory and brought the horse in the city as a symbol of victory.

The wooden horse was filled with Greek warriors. After a day of celebrating their assumed victory the drunken city of Troy slept well while the warriors came out of the horse and opened the city gates. The Greek fleet under the command of Agamemnon returned from just over th horizon to invade the city.

Perhaps if we had come as did Alexander the Great did later with a copy of Homer’s “Iliad” in hand we might have heard the battle cry of Agamemnon’s fleet of warriors roll across the plain.

That which seemed so appealing proved to be the downfall of Troy. The application to us today is too clear to make the illustration have to crawl.

The second battle scene was that of a more contemporary true battle. It is known as the Battle of the Dardanelles during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 – 1916.

The initial campaign was largely between the British Royal Navy and the entrenched Ottoman forces. The two sides hammered each other with heavy cannon fire. As we sailed by the sight I could see at least thirty major gun emplacements along the shore at a narrow point in the waterway.

The battle gave the appearance of being a standoff. The British fleet withdrew and sailed away. A land assault ensured involving mostly British and Australian forces. The Australian forces suffered numerous casualties. Each year April 25 is commemorated in Australia as the day of these great casualties. Many Australians still make pilgrimages to the area.

There is a lesson to be learned from the sea/land battle. The British withdrew not knowing the Turks has less than one minute of ammunition left. A bit more staying power could have turned the course of the battle and saved many lives.

Had they had the will power of a later war tempered Sir Winston Churchill who said at Harrow School in 1941, of the World War II battle against the Nazi forces, “Never given in– never, never, never, never, in nothing great of small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force, never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Ephesus: The Arena in Which Paul Preached

No visit to the historical islands and area around the Aegean Sea would be complete without a visit to Kusadasi and more importantly nearby Ephesus. A focal feature is the facade of the impressive Celsus Library named for Emperor Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus and completed around 117 A.D. Once the third largest library in the world it housed over 30,000 volumes.The imposing front is designed to look even more impressive. Upward it recedes at two degrees giving the upper floor the appearance of being further away and hence the building being larger than it was. The style gives us the word “mirage.” The facility itself is a liberal education. The facade features four female figures representing what the ancients considered the basis of learning. A person having the qualities represented by the statues would indeed be well educated. They are: Sophia, wisdom, which is scholarly learning or knowledge; and understanding of what is right or true coupled with just judgment or action.

Arete, virtue, the fulfillment of function or purpose, the act of living up to one’s potential. When translated “virtue” it means “to be the best you can be.” I have always found it comforting to know God never asked us to be “the” best at anything, but rather to be “our” best at everything we do. Such a person would indeed be virtuous.

Eunoia, thinking, is an exhortation to contemplating, meditating, that is, well thought or reasoned opinions. It is the ability to compute using logic and reason.

Episteme, knowledge, is a sort of science. It is the art of demonstrating as proof, that is, the ability to repeat a fact.

On our recent trip we visited Ephesus during the day and evening. The stadium was dated by an inscription to Nero, 54 – 68 A.D. The long Arcadian Way leads to the Great Theater seating 20,000. Here the Apostle Paul preached and for doing so was basically run out of town. The truths he proclaimed eventually became the primary faith of the region.

Nearby is the traditional sight where it is believed the Virgin Mary spent her last years and is buried. Also close by is the Basilica of the Apostle John built by Emperor Justinian over the spot where John is reputedly buried.

We visited the city by day viewing all the points of interest. By night the city has an ethereal ambiance. The Seabourn Cruise Company, with which we were traveling, reserved the historical sight for an evening performance of classical music by the Kusadasi String Ensemble just for cruise members. Tables and chairs were set up on the Arcadian Way with the attractively lighted theater as a background. Down this street walked such historical figures as Cleopatra, Mark Anthony, Hadrian, Caligula, Trajan, and the Apostles John and Paul.

Ephesus was a port city with lessons to teach us. The Romans cut the timber off the surrounding hills and did not practice reforestation. The port that once was six miles wide and seven miles long filled in by soil eroded from the hills and is now a fertile agricultural area. When the port filled in the city died.

Still carved in the large stone pavements are circles dissected by eight straight lines. It is a design formed by overlaying the Greek letters for Ichthus, meaning fish: iota, chi, theta, gamma, and zeta. Overlaid they form the dissected circle interpreted to mean “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

In this way the faith once decried in the city is noted by those who came to embrace it.

Milos: What Happened to the Arms of Venus DeMilo?

What happened to the arms of Venus de Milo?

Standing six feet eight inches, she is believed to have represented Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty, love and sexual rapture. She is thought to have been created between 130 and 100 A.D. on the Island of Crete.

Last week while I was standing in the field on the Island of Milos, one of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, I learned from an islander their account of her discovery and condition. While digging among other ruins in that field a peasant named Yorgos Kentotoas unearthed her on April 8, 1820. It is not known if she was intended to adorn the nearby Roman amphitheater on Milos or the gymnasium in which she was found buried. In that day a gymnasium was often simply an open field in which athletes trained.

Originally she was painted and adorned with accents, such as ear rings and a bracelet, intended to give her a more life like appearance. In her left hand she held an apple, the symbol of Milos, and her right arm was across her torso as though the hand was tugging at the folds draped on her bent knee. The golden apple is also the symbol of her being “the fairest of the goddesses.”

When Yorgos found her among other ruins her body and legs were in separate pieces and her two arms were nearby. He took her home and housed her for some time. When visitors would visit the house and ask to talk with Yorgos, they were often told he was in the basement with his beautiful statue.

There was no Greek government at the time – only people who spoke Greek. The large French contingency on the island desired her. Yorgos and islanders wanted her to go to the Sultan to help gain tax relief. A conflict over her destiny resulted. The French eventually drug her to one of their ships anchored near the shore in the nearby harbor. Significant scratches resulting from the dragging can be seen on her back by a close observe. In a small boat they loaded her onto their ship. The arms were too heavy so they were in the process of being taken to another French ship anchored further off shore when the boat in which they were being transported sank and the arms were lost.

Several years ago a small exploration submarine was used in an unsuccessful attempt to find the arms. They are still buried at sea.

Her story is a classic example of how things come apart when individuals or governments are interested in different parts rather than the whole. In our own lives things are more harmonious when all the parts are put together properly.

Legends abound in Greek mythology. One of the most famous ones related to Aphrodite is her competition with goddesses, Hear and Athena to determine the most beautiful goddess. Zeus would not choose the fairest so the responsibility befell to Paris, Prince of Troy. Each of the goddesses offered him a bribe. He would not turn down the bribe of Aphrodite which was to give him the most beautiful woman in the world as a bride, Helen of Troy. Unfortunately for Paris, Helen was the wife of the Greek King Menelaus. Paris abducted Helen and that started the Trojan War.

Awesome Alaska

What is our eastern most state?

What is our western most state?

The eastern most is Alaska. The western most is Alaska.

Alaska is so big it crosses the 180th parallel, the International Date Line, making it both our western and eastern most state.

Alaska is BIG. The distance from tiny Attu Island in the Aleutian Chain to the area down along the Southeast coast of Alaska, know as the Pan Handle, would span from San Diego to Tallahassee. It is larger than our twenty-one smallest states combined. It is bigger than Texas, California, Montana, combined with our three smallest states. It covers the same distance as four times zones in the lower 48 states. It is one-fifth the size of the lower 48 states combined.

Barrow is so far north they have 82 straight days the sun never sets.

Under the North Slope of Alaska there are 10 billion barrels of oil. The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline running from the North Slope to the Gulf of Alaska when full of oil contains over $300 million worth of oil. If the oil of Alaska were put in barrels and stacked one on top of the other the stack would reach to the moon —- eighteen times.

There are between 12 and 15 volcanos perking at all times. One-half of the glaciers in the world are in Alaska. There are 5,000 rivers of ice. The Malispina Glacier is larger than the country of Switzerland.

They have unimaginable mountains. Mt. Whitney in California is the tallest mountain in the Continental United States. Alaska has 14 peaks that are taller.

The tallest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest, sits on a plateau base of 14,000 feet before soaring up. If its base were at sea level as is Mt. Denali, then Mt. Everest would be only 15,000 feet. Measured the same way Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley, is 20,320 high.

We have just returned from fishing for Silver Salmon and men in Alaska. Three days were spent on a yacht in Resurrection Bay fishing for salmon. The weather one day caused me to wonder if we were type casting for “The Deadliest Catch.”

I visited at length with men bating their lines to go flounder fishing 14 hours out at sea. These men earn $130,000 a year to make six trips and they do earn it.

I fished for men at the Anchorage Baptist Temple the largest church in the state where the funeral of Senator Ted Stephens was held the same week.

The church has always been active in community life related to social, ethical, and moral issues. The secular press engaged in a prolonged campaign to discredit the pastor and church. For sometime it hurt the church badly. To counter this the church has bought five radio stations and one TV station that give a fair representation to Christianity, church, and pastor. They cover the vast territory just described and are changing lives.

Their harvest of souls is much greater than even my catch of Silver Salmon —- and I did well.

Wolves And American Ranchers

Conservation is an elemental essential. However, extremism in anything is not good.

A few years ago conservationists said the buffalo and elk herds in Yellowstone were over populated and wolves needed to be reintroduced to enable a balance of nature. In 1994 there were no wolves in the Yellowstone area.

I just returned from Montana where I had the good fortune of visiting with ranches. The experiment has gone on long enough for there to be an observable result. Wolves, the apex-killers, have changed the ecosystem in Yellowstone and the region.

Wildlife biologists and ecologists in Yellowstone are still rather pleased with the result of the reintroduction of wolves. The elk herd has been driven to greater elevations and reduced from around 19,000 to 11,000. Vegetation eaten by elk along low lying steams has rebounded and proliferates. Other carnivores benefit from food left from wolf kills.

It is ranchers and businesses in the area who have suffered the greatest losses.

The elk herd in Yellowstone has been so depleted that it has impacted hunting in the designated areas. Normally 2,000 to 3,000 permits are granted. None will be awarded this year because the wolves have decidedly depleted the herd. That means millions of dollars are lost due to hunters not coming into the area. Great revenue is lost because of there being no permits sold. These lost funds normally go to wildlife conservation.

Some persons disparage the iconic image of blood-lusting wolves. Ranchers don’t.

Wolves have impacted cattle herds. In certain regions there is only a 5 percent survival rate of calves. That represents thousands of dollars lost to the ranchers.

Grown cattle lose between sixty and eighty pounds of weight because of being harassed by wolves. At $1.05 per pound in a herd of 500 cattle that is a loss of $84.00 per head for a total loss of $42,000 per herd.

In one area 123 sheep have been killed by wolves.

We watched a herd of elk being harassed and eventually stampeded by a pack of wolves. A ranger pointed out five dead elk in a field killed by wolves. They don’t just kill for food. They kill for fun. The pack attack we saw was in a vast snow field on the slope of a mountain and was carried out for fun.

Various packs prefer certain animals. Over by Ted Turner’s Circle D ranch the preferred elk herd has been so impacted they are now working on the buffalo.

The Circle D has about 4,000 buffalo  Aldo Leopold wrote of a fierce green fire in a wolf’s eyes. The fire blazes when wild predators and domestic prey encounter each other.

Conservation is not only commendable it is crucial. However, forethought and unbiased planning is needed. The Green Movement has a lot to offer if they can just control their extremists who tend to act on emotion and impulse rather than un-skewed facts and fundamental logic.

In all decision making reason and logic should take precedent over emotion and sentiment.THIMK! Yeah, I know.

Swiss Army

We just visited the enchanting land of Switzerland and learned a bit more about their proud heritage.

There is a Swiss statement: “Switzerland has no army. Switzerland is an army.”

That is not exactly true. It has a population of six million of which 600,000 are in the army. At the age 20 each man is conscripted into the army and given 15 months of training. Until the age of 42 they train two to three weeks a year. They keep their weapon in their homes and stand ready to fight.

A distinction of the army is no person’s military rank can be greater than his or her professional rank. Job parody is the point.

Swiss forces last fought outside their nation’s borders in 1515 and they haven’t been at war in more than 500 years. For years there were various volunteer armies in regions who fought as mercenaries. The armies fought for whoever hired them. Once the Duke of Burgundy hired one Swiss army and the King of France hired another. The two armies fought each other as proxies for the Duke and King.

Such a national defense force preserves peace.

Nothing personifies the pride the Swiss have regarding their army than the “Dying Lion of Luzern” carved in sandstone mountain face above the town of Luzern. It depicts a wounded lion with a broken spear shaft extending from its body. Its paw rests on lilies symbolizing France and there is a Swiss shield thereby. It is a tribute to the Swiss soldiers who died attempting to save Marie Antoinette in 1792.

A caption above it reads: “To the Bravery and Truthfulness of the Swiss.”

The name Luzern itself is interesting. It means “The Lantern” or “The Light” and is based on the legend that an angel with a lantern showed founders to the place to establish the city.

Perhaps the European war that brought about more good than most is the Battle of Solferino. This pitted the Austrians against the Sardinian (French.) A Swiss business man, Henry Durant visited Napoleon III near the battle sight where there were 40,000 casualties. He convinced Napoleon “we are all brothers” and all who suffer deserve help.

The outgrowth was the International Red Cross. Durant being Swiss reversed the Swiss flag which is a white cross on a red background and put a red cross on a white background. Thus, it became the symbol of the International Red Cross. Durant formulated and fostered many of the current rules of war. The work of Durant resulted in him being the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

As an aside those medieval armies must have smelled very bad. All of society did. During that era it was believed water damages the skin and bathing was bad for you. It is said of King Louis XIV of France water only touched his body once in his life. It occurred at his baptism as an infant. Even drinking of water was discouraged. Children were told it would cause frogs to grow in them. Come to think of it deodorants are a relatively new thing.

We are blessed to live in this era and this country. If you are going to visit only two foreign countries make them Switzerland and Israel.

Austria: History Revisited

Travel is exciting and educational. Test yourself on these questions that have stumped me in recent travels.

What is the official color of Ireland? I had no doubt but that it was green. It isn’t. It is blue.

Hitler was a German: true or false? False, he was an Austrian.

Beethoven was Austrian: true of false? False, he was a German.

The reversal of the commonly assumed homelands of those two is considered a historical marvel.

What is the capital of Switzerland? It has no national capital. Bern is known as the Federalists City but no city is called the capital.

Which is older Italy or America? Italy as it is known today is considerably younger. As a political state Italy was established in 1861 and America in 1776.

We just returned for a five nation tour of Europe. Each of the five countries was highly enjoyable but Switzerland especially. They do not have states but rather cantons which are  in effect states in the Swiss Confederation. Like most of Europe immigration is a major issue as it is here. For persons to immigrate to Switzerland they do not apply to the national government for permission but to the canton in which they want to reside. The canton has the authority to deny or approve immigration.

In its formation American had a strong states rights provision. In that frame of reference Arizona recently passed a law regarding illegal immigrants that previously would have been the norm as it is now in Switzerland. We have indeed changed.

We gained a new perspective of the times and lives of the characters in “The Sound of Music.”

In the movie and stage versions of the story Captain Georg Ludwig von Trapp and his family sang “Edelweiss” in defiance of pressure to support the rising tide of Nazism. The edelweiss flower is a symbol of Austria and the singing of the song was supposed to be a defiant statement of Austrian patriotism.

The scene is memorable but fictional. The song “Edelweiss” wasn’t written until 1959 by Rogers and Hammerstein.

Europeans know little about “The Sound of Music.” They rely on a 1950 German film “Apostolate” for their background.

In so far as Austrian patriotism is concerned it was not as strong as noted in the film and stage productions. There surely would not have been any expression as overt as depicted. However, there were vestiges of patriotism.

Hitler didn’t invade his home country of Austria. The Austrians welcomed him. The year Hitler’s forces moved into Austria there were more traffic deaths than were caused by the intrusion. They wanted him to rule their country, his homeland. In 1945 there were more Nazis in Austria than in Germany.

After Hitler manifested himself and things went bad the Austrians represented themselves as the first victims of Hitler. They were not victims. Only in recent years have they begun to acknowledge their deception and seduction by Hitler.

Austria is a classic example of a whole society being deceived by clever political charlatans.

States rights is a good point at which Americans can express their patriotism.

Renewal In A Circle of Stones

Renewal is an essential part of the life-cycle. Nature does it each spring. Even the cells of our body are periodically renewed. Therefore, it is only reasonable we human beings need to be renewed spiritually. Like clocks we tend to rundown and need rewinding.

Recently I took 36 athletes and twelve coached from Shorter University, notice now “University,” to Montana for a week of Christian leadership training. The week involved a variety of interesting things including a visit to Yellowstone, mountain hiking, swimming in the icy waters or Lake Agnes at 10,000 feet.

One activity was more engaging and stimulating than others.

It involved a morning of fasting which meant missing breakfast. For college students that is a start. They left their watches with group leaders, and turning off their cell phones had them sealed in a paper bag to be used only in the event of an emergency.

The ranch is over six miles long and three miles wide. The students were spread out across this area known as the high desert. Each was to find a place where they could not see anyone or be seen. Once in their isolated spot they were to gather up a number of the abundant stones and make a circle. They were then to sit in the circle alone. They were instructed to stay in the circle all morning except for restroom breaks.

The only movement they saw was deer, elk, antelope, moose, and eagles.

The circle was to symbolize God’s will. They were to stay in the circle and meditate all morning long.

For any active person, especially college students, this is a different discipline. One side affect of fasting is that every time there is a hunger pang it should be reminder that as the body needs food our spirit need renewing. Hence it is a reminder to refocus on God and pray. It is also a discipline in controlling our bodies.

At a given time shortly after noon an air horn was sounded and vans went out to pick them up.

Before they were to leave their circle each person was encouraged to go outside the circle of stones and find a special stone to be used to symbolize something in their life of which they need to be forgiven and renewal begun with the Lord. The stone was to be left in the circle as a symbol of leaving a bad habit or life-style impropriety (sin) behind with the Lord and starting over —- renewed.

For many that was a first, a severe discipline.

Leaders have to be disciplined. Being a Christian leader requires discipline and dedication.

The apostle Paul wrote of disciplining his body and keeping it under control. Our word is self-control. In a society of “me first” and “looking out for number one” where any appetite is to be indulged this was meaningful training.

We all train our bodies. Some train their body to indulge itself. They exercise little or no self-control.

A well self-disciplined life is a productive life. Devise your own equivalent of the circle of stones and begin self-discipline by spending time alone with God —- renewed.

Montana In The Morning

Montana in the morning is a medley of sounds and sights. Having just returned the sensations are fresh and refreshing.
Sitting on the patio of the lovely ranch lodge looking up the swiftly flowing Big Hole River, the fragrance of new mowed hay blends with a bouquet of wildflower fragrances to awaken the senses. Even the sky is a different blue.
Looking down on the meadow along the river the horse trainer is at work. She is a big league cowgirl with records to prove it. Her beauty belies her strength and merits her being featured in the photo journal, “Cowgirls.”
A doe and fawn wade the shallows of the river to get to the greener pastures. They cross to the east in the morning and west in the evening. Soon they join about twenty-five more deer in the meadow for breakfast.
The Big Hole River is one of the ten top trout streams in North America. Lazy charter fishing boats with a guide and two fishermen float past the ranch hourly.
Soaring above the river and meadow are bald eagles on the hunt. A flight of pelicans looking for fish glides above the river on wings spanning eight feet. When they find a school they form a circle around them and begin splashing in the water as they close the circle and scoop them up. Their beaks hold over three gallons of fish and water earning the line: “A wonderful bird is the pelican. His beak can hold more than his belly can.”
The primeval deep resonate rattling call of the Sandhill crane reverberates across the plain. The colorful but raucous Black-billed Magpies chatter as they flit about.
The sun rises over McCartney Mountain, the tallest free standing mountain in North America. Its golden rays illumine the Pioneer Mountain range to the west. Later in the day we ascended from the ranch base which is 5,500 feet above sea level on a four wheeler by way of a mountain trail in the Pioneers. The trail went through verdun forest and mountain meadows blanked with fragrant blue Silky Lupine.  At an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet we topped out and had a picnic amid the snow covered peaks. From the summit beautiful Lake Agnes can be seen cradled in a valley 1,300 feet below. It is rich with grayling and trout.
On an average day on the ranch hundreds of whitetail and mule deer, elk by the dozens, large herds of pronghorn and moose are seen browsing in the alfalfa and along the river bank.
The state is 700 miles wide and 500 miles from north to south with a population of less than a million.
People are catching on. The nearby sleepy little town of Melrose with a population of less than 300 now has a developing suburb on the Big Hole river of a gated community of million dollar houses.
This community contrast to the nearby ghost towns such as Virginia City, Nevada City, Bannack, and Heckla that attest to the gold riches of the past.
Montana in the morning is a cacophony of sensations enriching ones spirit. Under the Big Sky life moves slowly but a visit passes all too fast. Having the joy of sharing all this with friends made it all the more enjoyable.
To revive your spirit and be renewed expose yourself to something BIG. Montana is a great place to do it. Looking at all this expansive beauty one can’t help but see a revelation of creative purpose and be drawn closer to the Creator.

Beautiful Bermuda

In a weeks time we just came down from the magnificent mountains of Montana to the beautiful beaches of Bermuda.
This lovely archipelago with pink beaches consists of approximately 138 islands. The seven largest linked by bridges comprise the “mainland.” One of these bridges has the world’s smallest drawbridge, 18 inches. It is just large enough for the mast of a mid-sized sail boat to go through.
The land mass consists of slightly more than twenty square miles. The greatest width is two miles. Only 800 acres is suitable for farming. The population of just over 65,000 consists of some of the most joyous and friendly people in the world.
This is the sixth year I have gone there to teach at  Willowbank Resort. It is an award winning cottage resort community on a scenic promontory overlooking picturesque Ely’s Harbor, once a haunt for pirates, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It has just gone through an extensive renovation and expansion.
A group of British and Bermuda business men established the retreat years go in this semitropical paradise. Most who come are from England, Canada, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Boston, Philadelphia and New England.
We were there last week during the most exciting week of their year. It was a four day holiday for “Cup Match.” The island closes and everyone focuses on the cricket match between Somerset and St. George’s, the two extreme ends of this chain of islands shaped like a fish hook.
We went to the match and had an exciting time without understand a thing we saw. It started at 10:00 AM, took a break for lunch, and being a British colony they took a 4:00 PM break and went to the locker rooms for tea before resuming and ending around 7:00 PM. It went on for two days and ended in a draw.
Before explaining the game of cricket I want to note the explanation will be followed by a reason for sharing it.
You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out.
When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in.
When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game.
Now the reason for the explanation. It is for those spouses married to a football fanatic to share with your spouse to help your spouse know how you feel when an attempt is made to explain football to you.
The convivial atmosphere at the match and the exotic foods make the outing enjoyable apart form the game. Muscle pie, clam chowder, fish stew, and hoppin-john were but a few menu items.
Bermuda is a wonderful place to go for a lesson in hospitality.

Israel Part 3

This is not to say who is right and who is wrong in Israel. It is to say what is.
There are three regions governed by three separate codes of law. Along the Costal Plane and Gaza Egyptian law prevails. Around Bethlehem, Jericho, and suburban Jerusalem Jordanian law is applied, and in Israel and the part known by many since the Six Day War as the West Bank Israeli Law, which is primary British, is in force. Confusing isn’t it. Why is this important?
The region called the West Bank by Israel was conquered in 1967 and has since been called the West Bank by Israel. The Arab world calls it “the occupied territory.” Who is right? By ,Israel appears to imply the Arabs, even though they contend it is not occupied territory.
The reason some consider some regions occupied territory is that International Law says that if a country occupies another, those conquered must be governed by their own laws. The fact the people in those territories are governed by their own laws implies they are occupied territories.
To compound the issue is the question of what law prevails on the Temple Mount, site of the Mosque of Omar, better known as the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest place in the Arab world.
Israel is a mosaic of diverse cultures. In addition to the complexity of law, there is the compounding matrix of religion. There are many faiths that propagate in this cradle, though there are three principle ones. Israel is the home of Judaism and Christianity. It is a primary fountainhead of Islam. The faiths of two of these are embraced by various states, Judaism by Israel and Islam by the Arab countries. Christianity has no national base of support. The other two often form a vice putting pressure on the Christian community.
This is observable in Bethlehem which was once 95% Christian. Today it is about 28% Christian. There have long been seven quarters to the city. Six were long Christian and one Muslim. Now four are Muslim and two about equal. Every time a piece of property comes up for sale it is purchased by a Muslim, rather for a Muslim. The money comes primarily from Saudi Arabia. Cost does not matter. One business man told me that if he put his business up for sale for $5,000,000 they would pay $10,000,000 rather than a non-Muslim obtain it. In the heart of old Bethlehem, all the property around Nativity Square and the Church of the Nativity is being purchased by Muslims.
A sub confusion comes from the fact some Christians are Arabs and some Israelis. These are often in conflict with the faith of their heritage and those who espouse it.
Another layer of confusion is the pluralism of the population. Immigrants from all over the world have moved into the country. Israel has a very liberal immigration policy for Jews wanting to “come home.” Assimilation of the many diverse customs into one is difficult. Many youth grow up not knowing who they are. The Israeli government has a good program to help acclimate young Jews to their new society but children of other cultures have no roots. This causes emotional problems.
Don’t try to solve all this. Do comply with the ancient admonition: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

Israel Part 2

If you get a chance to visit Israel, the land of the Bible, go. Don’t let the following discourage you.
On this our thirty-third trip to Israel my wife and I ventured out of the tourist sphere several times. I pruned olive trees and grape vines in a friend’s garden and visited deep into two regions of the off beat desert. I am writing about the Bible character Nicodemus and lucked up on finding his grave on the Costal Plain at Beit Gemal near where David fought Goliath in the valley of Elah.
Just my wife and I were on this trip. Walking in the Old City of Jerusalem by ourselves we ventured into the Arab section. Each quarter of the city has its own enjoyable atmosphere. We knew our way around and enjoyed leisurely visiting places of interest. However, there was one difference this time. Small groups of admirably brown boys with moosed curly hair enjoy walking in packs and engaging tall white men in combat walking. They took delight in taunting me verbally in a language I don’t know, tugged at my shirt and often bumped me.
Later in telling an adult about it I said I understand their frustration and don’t hold it against them.
He said, “You can forgive them but they won’t forgive you.”
I asked what he meant. He asked if I knew why they hated me simply because I am an American. He explained every week in the mosques of the land, including the mosque on the Holy Mount, they hear the same hate message. He explained the Arabs have a term used for “raiding the well.” In the old Arab culture if the well of a tribe wasn’t producing they would raid the well of a neighboring tribe and get their valued water. He said they are taught Americans are raiding the wells of the Arab people in Iraq. Because of this, they are taught to hate Americans.
The person telling me this is well educated. He said Americans are not the ones raiding the Iraqi wells-it is the British who have been doing it for years as the British Petroleum Company. However, it is to the advantage of the religious leaders in that part of the world to preach such a message of hate.
To maintain calm in this pluralistic society, extremists must be dealt with. A police officer represented himself to me as being in investigation. I presumed that meant investigating crimes after the fact. It meant investigating potential happenings in order to prevent them. He said it isn’t always democratic but it is essential for the welfare of both sides to infiltrate and deal with potential problems in order to prevent them. Surveillance is a constant necessity.
That is a delicate essential in our own country. Constant vigilance in investigating what might happen in order to prevent it is basic to safety. Doing so in our democratic society is all the more difficult. That is what some of our recent investigative legislation is all about. Like it or not it is necessary.
Don’t let my recent experience deter you from going to Israel. Stay with your group and there is no problem. Arabs and Israelis alike assured me the terrorist know the tourists are good for the economy and not one has been a target.
The spiritual benefits are worth the efforts.

Israel Part 1

Having just returned from my thirty-third trip to Israel I found the situation as complicated as ever. This is not an attempt to take sides-just to report an experience.
I said to an Arab-Christian friend in Bethlehem, “I  understand some of the extremist holdouts from the stand-off at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem are trying to get back in the country.”
Calmly but confidently he said, “Those were not extremists.” I wanted to interrupt and assure him they were because I heard it on the news in America. He went on to say he was supposed to be one of them. Just before the most recent invasion of Bethlehem that precipitated the stand-off word got out there was going to be a raid by Israeli Security forces to arrest a few known extremists and in the process a number of other innocent persons in order to intimidate them to keep the terrorists from gaining popularity.
My friend’s influential father in America, knowing of the pending arrests, called his son and told him to go to the church as a sanctuary against arrest as an innocent person. As he was leaving to go to the church a nun from a convent called and told him to come there for safety. He elected to do so and therefore wasn’t in the Church of the Nativity.
As the siege continued and interest in his whereabout waned, he returned home. His wife picked up the story at this point saying that during the shelling of their neighborhood she kept the children in a basement room. There she played loud music and played games with them to try to prevent them from understanding the gravity of what was going on as debris from exploding shells crashed through their home.
Against that background he shared that the people with all differences can get along with each other. It is the political leaders who cause the problems. He related how Israeli friends called their home several times during the bombing to enquire about their welfare, asked if they had food, and offered to bring them food.
After the conflict ended, business in Bethlehem was very bad. He owed several Jewish business men elsewhere in Israel significant money. Each called and urged him not to worry about the debt, that they knew things would get better and when they did he would repay them. Things have improved significantly and he has repaid them.
Several things about that conversation stand out. Our news represented those in the church as all being extreme terrorists. They were not. A few were but others were simply seeking sanctuary against being made an example of. That slant was never in the news.
Next, the citizens with different religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds can co-exist and in general do.
The courage of the populace is amazing. Israelis live with the threat of terrorist bombings and Arabs of further incursions into their neighborhoods.

Switzerland: A Land of Enchantment

Elevated heights lead to elevated thoughts. For the optimum upper, visit Switzerland. It is one of the few places in the world that exceeds ones anticipation of what it is like. If you have ever visited a highly anticipated place and found it a downer, Switzerland is the place to redeem those disappointments.
It is easy to visit all regions by comfortable, fast trains. For those of us unfamiliar with how to catch what train, it can be challenging. Rushing to get on a coach only to find you are on the wrong train going the wrong way gives you opportunity to see parts of the beautiful country not on your itinerary.  It is not a loss, I know. We covered the country from the German to the Italian borders by train.
A couple of places that stood out in more than one way are the Jungfrau, known as “The Top of Europe” (11,333 feet), and the Matterhorn.
The quaint village of Grindelwald is an ideal place from which to visit the Jungfrau by rack rail. The cafeteria, gift shop, and viewing rooms are also an ideal places from which to overlook the Eiger Mountain and Eismeer glacier. The myths of the Eiger North Face remain undiminished. It is a ninety minute adventure up the slopes. A change of trains at Klein Scheidegg is required. This was the setting that drew me back to this country after seven years. I wanted to go back, sit on the mountain side and listen to the cow bells. When you get on the tram at the Zurich airport there are background sounds of cow bells, a mooing cow, and a person yodeling. That is all lived out on this mountain side. Miss your connecting train and wait an hour for the next one to enjoy the views and melodious cow bells.
At the Jungfrau you are above 95% of the atmospheric pollution of the earth.
The snow and glaciers cover the mountains all year. The Ice Palace has been carved in the glacier. Long corridors and spacious rooms are made the more interesting by stunning ice sculptures.
Snow flakes that fall on the Jungfrau flow through the lower Grindelwald Glacier in the form of ice crystals for 200 to 250 years before melting and becoming part of the streams in the valleys.
This is a marvelous place to study global warming. A 10,000 year record shows a rapid change every 2,000 years from colder to warmer or warmer to colder. That is earth’s history.
From Grindelwald a three mile cable car ride to the area of First is a matchless way to see the forest and idyllic cultivated countryside up close.
A three hour rail trip from the hub city of Interlaken, itself a must visit town, near Grindelwald takes you through many tunnels, narrow valleys, and lofty passes to Zermott. It is the “WOW” route. The many enthralling views that surprise you result in frequent wows.
There are no automobiles in Zermott. It is the base from which the captivating view of the Matterhorn can be enjoyed. A rack rail trip to the summit of Gornergrat lifts you above most of the mountain peaks of the area and brings you face to face with the magnificent Matterhorn which appears to hold up the sky.
Go if you can. If you can’t, I hope this virtual trip has been interesting and uplifting.

The Big Hole Valley

In recent years my wife and I have been privileged to spend a bit of time each year in the Big Hole Valley in Montana. It is one of the most scenic spots in America. It is a basin sixty miles long and fifteen miles wide bordered by the Pioneer Range on the east and the Rocky Mountain cordillera of the west. Streams flow from virtually every valley to form the Big Hole River which merges with the Beaverhead River to form the Jefferson which merges with the Madison and Gallatin Rivers and flows into the Missouri River into the Mississippi and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico.

The ranch house sits on an table 5860 feet above sea level. The view is right up the river. Mount McCartney, the tallest free standing mountain in North America at about 9,000 feet, forms the ranch boundary to the east with the river on the west. The ranch is about one tenth the length of the valley.

All of this is approximately three hours from Yellowstone over the Beartooth Highway, the highest roadway in North America appropriately dubbed “America’s most beautiful highway.” The elevation is slightly less that eleven thousand feet. The alpine vistas are enthralling. The route home is through Virginia City and Nevada City, two engaging old gold mining towns.

Lewis and Clark along with their Native American guide, Sacajawea camped here. Nearby Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce fought the Battle of the Big Hole River and started their trek toward Canada. On the ranch and nearby are abandoned gold mines. The fertility of the valley has earned it the name “The valley of 10,000 hay stacks.”

Moose, elk, black tail and white tail deer, antelopes, gold and bald eagles, proliferate on the ranch along the Big Hole River known as one of the ten best trout fishing streams in America.

Our friends from Grand Rapids, Michigan who own the ranch have developed a portion of it as a retreat center. They pay all expenses for groups from three colleges and fourteen other groups to each spend a week there in the summer each year. Most who come are from Michigan.

Quality provisions for softball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, and horseshoes provide outdoor recreational opportunities. A spacious game room is provided. Tubing the river and climbing McCartney are priorities. The food is superb. All is free. Everything is first class in keeping with the reputation of Yellowstone Builders, the contractors.

The ranch has been developed to provide a setting for young people to have solitude and engage in spiritual training. It is amazing how attitudes and even facial expressions change within a week. The ranch is in reality an investment in the future of America. Some schools bring their student leaders and others their sports teams captains and coaches. Non-churched inner city as well as urban church groups come.

It is a big investment for an even bigger cause. Living and conversing with the owners I am persuaded they think it is the best investment they have ever made. Their expressed joy and sense of gratification over lives positively influenced provides dividends for time and eternity. It is good to be a little part of something this big. The Big Hole fills an empty hole in a lot of lives.