Calvary Chapel – Gettysburg – Part Two

BLOG #43, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA
GETTYSBURG
Part 2
October 23, 2013

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Cyclorama Depiction

After days of heavy rain, the skies had finally cleared. At 7:35 a.m., I was picked up at the Radisson and ferried over to the block-long Calvary Chapel complex. Five apparently brand new 54-passenger tour buses were rapidly filling with growth-oriented men, men who knew each other well. Here and there were fathers and sons. Had to smile at the two sets of fathers and sons in the row just in front of me: it started out father/son, but it rapidly became clear that the boys preferred sitting together, so they were so accommodated. Thereafter both the two men and the two boys talked to each other non-stop.

Our bus, containing the leader, Pastor Trevor Steenbakkers, was designated Bus #1, and led the pack out of the parking lot and headed south. Initially, well over 400 had planned to go, but when our Government shut down, and the national parks, monuments, and battlefields closed, for a while it appeared the day at Gettysburg would be lost. However, Pastor Trevor was tenacious and the good people of Gettysburg (losing money at an alarming rate) were desperate enough to get creative. So here we were, heading to the most famous battlefield in America, wondering what we’d see.

After we cleared Philadelphia’s suburbs, our leader introduced a film few of us had ever seen: the four-hour-long documentary, Gettysburg; we’d see half of it going, and the other half returning. Since I’d been devouring a large book detailing the three-day battle for over a month, I found the historically accurate film riveting. What was almost surreal was watching the action in the screen above us and simultaneously experiencing/seeing outside the same hill and tree configurations depicted in the film. It was almost like theater in the round.

Immersed in the film as we were, we were jarred when the film was turned off: we were coming into Gettysburg. I’d been there before, but never before with a guide. We drew up at the Gettysburg Cyclorama complex, and within several minutes, our “soldier” guide came aboard. He told us that though we were not permitted to enter the 6,000 acre battlefield, we’d get mighty close. Though eight of the ten roads intersecting Gettysburg were federal, fortunately two were not. We’d thus be able to nibble at the battlefield from a number of angles, all of which our guide knew–in fact, he was descended from men who fought here. In short, he was living history! I have found that, in travel, a guide who is passionate about the subject literally makes a trip. And so it was here. Serendipitously, we got to experience in depth the town of Gettysburg, usually relegated to the sidelines by pilgrims who spend almost all their time on the battlefield itself. With such a guide, believe me, none of us felt shortchanged.

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Cyclorama Depiction

Afterwards, it was back to the Cyclorama complex, with its food court, large gift/book store, and the dramatic Cyclorama. During the 1880’s, the French artist Paul Philippoteaux researched, and painted what is now the largest painting in America. It took him, with his team of assistants, over a year to create the 42-foot-high and 377 feet in circumference painting. Pickett’s Charge dominates. As you walk around you can check out each portion of the battlefield. A sound and light show dramatizes it.

While half the group experienced it, I had the opportunity to answer the other half’s questions about Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and Gettysburg. Then I took them deeper into the significance of Gettysburg, the pivotal high-tide of the Confederacy. I discussed with them Lincoln’s epiphany when he wrote what his secretary, John Hay, called “The Meditation of the Divine Will.” In it [Hay had found it on Lincoln’s desk and secretly copied it.], Lincoln rhetorically asked why God refused to bless the armies of the North: for two long years, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson had time after time defeated Union armies two or three times larger than they. Why? asked Lincoln. Didn’t the North have the high moral ground in God’s eyes? Finally [and I tell the fuller story in my Lincoln biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage], Lincoln was convicted that God withheld His blessing from the North because it had refused to address the almost quarter of a millennium cancer of slavery. After much prayer, Lincoln made a vow to God that if Lee retreated from Antietam across the Potomac, he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves. Lincoln did so on January 1, 1863.

What further muddied the waters for Lincoln was his realization that both North and South prayed to the same God, asking each day for battlefield success. As if that didn’t muddy it enough, many of the slaves in the South were actually owned by absentee planters in the North. So the North came into the Civil War with anything but clean hands, where slavery was concerned.

Lee came to Gettysburg serenely confident that he would, once again, easily dispose of Union forces, led as they were by inept northern generals. After his victory, since Gettysburg was only a few miles from Washington, there would be little to prevent his victorious troops from marching on the capital. When it fell, the war would be over.

But if Lincoln was right, and his freeing the slaves six months before would be accepted by God as a clear indication that the North was at last seeking higher moral ground, then God ought to recognize that fact on the battlefield confrontations.

But, for Lee, though time after time it looked like he had the Federals on the run, now each time they miraculously regrouped. I pointed out to our Gettysburg armchair historians that:

1. Meade had only been in command of the Army of the Potomac for three days when Gettysburg cannonading began, yet he refused to buckle as had his predecessors. Nor did Hancock, his strong second in command.

2. First and foremost, Lee was missing the one indispensable person, other than himself, in the war: Stonewall Jackson, the commander the Feds feared most, for he out-thought and out-fought their generals every time. At Chancellorsville, when Jackson was killed by “friendly fire” from his own men, Lee declared he’d rather have lost his right arm. That loss contributed mightily to the results at Gettysburg.

3. Always before, the great cavalry commander, Jeb Stuart, could be counted on as Lee’s eyes and ears so that Lee would know everything about the enemy and its placements before the first shot was fired. This time, for some unexplainable reason, he was AWOL, rampaging through the Pennsylvania countryside, wreaking havoc–he wouldn’t show up until late on Day 2.

4. Without Stonewall Jackson, Lee’s second in command, Longstreet, was sulky, dragging his feet at Lee’s commands.

5. Pickett, too, was a no-show until late on Day 2.

6. And why did Lee, that military master who always knew when not to push it too far, now pushed it too far, overriding Longstreet’s strong reservations, and order Pickett’s ill-fated almost suicidal charge?

The result: Lee was forced to retreat. Had Meade and Hancock corralled the Confederate armies on the banks of the swollen Potomac River, all could have been over–but they did not, thus the war lasted two more bloody years.

Nevertheless, Gettysburg clearly represents the high tide of the Confederacy. Never again did Lee cross the Potomac. Every day thereafter, the North grew stronger and the South weaker.

It does appear that God took sides, albeit in a limited way, after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. In Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, it is clear that Lincoln was convicted that God’s slowness in ending the bloodbath was because both North and South had near a quarter millennium’s worth of slave-related blood on their hands, thus both sides were denied an easy solution.

And Lincoln’s assassination would prolong the anguish (in the South) for yet ten more years of what was euphemistically called “Reconstruction.”

All through our time together, our reference sources were primarily my two Howard/Simon & Schuster books: Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage (2008); and Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories [it includes four powerful Gettysburg stories] (2013).

All these things and more, we discussed at Gettysburg.

Afterwards, we boarded the bus and headed back to Philadelphia.

Next week, we will conclude this Calvary Chapel series.

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KPOF RADIO, AM91, THE POINT OF FAITH

BLOG #35, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
KPOF RADIO, AM91, THE POINT OF FAITH
STUDIO IN A CASTLE TURRET, ROUND TABLE BROADCAST, MARDEL’S,
OWLS, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, COFFEE, AND DAWN OVER DENVER
August 28 2013

How is that for a mouthful of a title?

It was still dark when my alarm clock shattered my dreams that morning of August 14, two weeks ago. I was out the door of the Grey House high on Conifer Mountain by 5:20. By 6:30, I could see the castle with its red-lighted beacon silhouetted against a cloudy dawn. As I approached the Westminister destination, I stopped, got out of my SUV, and unlimbered my legs so I’d be ready to sit down for the two-hour broadcast.

Afterwards, as I walked up the time-weathered steps, dawn’s gilding paintbrush gave the castle an otherworldly glow. Inside, all was already in progress for “The Breakfast Table Show: table-in-the-round, headphones and mikes, cups of steaming coffee, Roy Hanschke and Gordon Scott,–glaringly absent: Denise Washington Blomberg—, and an empty chair for me. How often, over the years had I thus joined this precious circle!

Fortunately, Denise would be back; but I gained a renewed sense of the fragility of life when Roy later shared with me the story of the dark days and nights when cancer came way too close to ending his part of the morning broadcast.

I thought back to the day in March when the station celebrated 85 years of broadcasting of KPOF Denver. 85 years under the same ministry ownership sharing the same gospel message.

What a milestone!

My thoughts drifted back even further, as I looked out the turret windows, to the days when the castle was a stagecoach stop. Yet here it still was, an anachronism when compared to the steel and glass skyscrapers just waking up to our southeast.

My reveries were abruptly terminated by a motion from Roy: In seconds, the commercial would end, and we’d be on the air. Ah the magic of radio! Still magical even in this age of nano-technology-driven instant obsolescence.

Once again, I was introduced to the listening audience–only, for the very first time, I was not here to talk about my latest Christmas in My Heart® book, but rather about my just-out Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories (Howard/Simon & Schuster). It was also announced that, periodically during the two-hour broadcast, we’d be giving away copies of the book to listeners who called in when invited to do so.

And, it was noted to listeners that I’d be sharing several stories with them each hour.

Denise’s empty chair reminded me each time we missed her effervescent presence–which was every time we looked in the direction of that chair–how irreplaceable each of us is. For each of us is a one-of-a-kind: in eternity itself, there has never been, nor ever will be, another Denise, another Roy, another Gordy, another me, another you.

Even without her, the old electricity re-ignited, having flared again and again during years past. What one didn’t think of, another did: thus there were no awkward pauses, but rather a continuous flow of Abraham Lincoln, the gentle giant who still rules over our hearts–both in America and around the world.

Every so many minutes, just before a commercial break, it would be announced that next, I’d be reading a story from the book–and so the conversational flow would stop: for “How Lincoln Paid for His First Book,” “Only a Mother,” “Tenderness in a Ruined City,” and “The Heart of Lincoln,” four of the shortest stories in the collection, yet each simple little story deeply moving in a unique way. Each revealing another dimension of America’s only Servant President: accessible to all, be it a broken-hearted little boy, a shy little girl pleading for her brother’s life, a dying young man in a makeshift hospital, or a young Confederate wife and baby in the still burning city of Richmond who apprehensively opened her front door, only to see a tall gaunt figure standing there, who, to her stunned exclamation, “The President!” simply responded, “No, ma’am; no, ma’am; just Abraham Lincoln, George’s old friend.” [“George,” being the now near immortal general, George Pickett, who led the greatest charge in our history, Pickett’s Charge, in a losing cause at Gettysburg].

We could all hear the voices of listeners as they called in, overjoyed that I’d be personally inscribing their books. We’d also hear the voices of those whose calls were relayed in from the switchboard during commercial breaks. More often than not, calls from those who were deeply troubled about illness, privation, inner torment, each asking for intercessory prayers.

It was at such times that I became more fully aware that this was not merely a commercial radio station, but rather a group of dedicated prayer warriors, each, from station manager, Jack Pelon, on down, committed to selfless service to all God’s sheep who looked to those inhabiting the Castle on the Hill as undershepherds to the Great Shepherd. All across the great city of Denver, they were listening to every word we spoke.

I thought too, both then and later, about the station’s 85-years of daily struggling to remain alive in an increasingly secular age, especially in recent years when Christianity and those who believe in God are openly mocked by a society that has apparently lost its spiritual moorings.

Every so many minutes, it would be announced that I’d be signing the Lincoln book at two locations that week: downtown Denver’s Barnes & Noble on Friday and Mardel’s Christian Bookstore on Wadsworth on Saturday.

It would be at Mardel’s where I’d fully realize the power of KPOF’s spiritual ministry to the people of Colorado: All day they came, all but two there because they’d heard Wednesday’s broadcast, they loved Lincoln and yearned to learn more about him in the new book and in my earlier biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage–, but mainly, they were there because they trusted those dear folk in the Castle they listened to so faithfully, day in and day out; spring, summer, autumn, and winter, year after year. And, because they’d heard me before, heard my voice breaking in deeply moving stories, they opened up their hearts to me, considering me also to be another undershepherd. What greater honor could there be? Furthermore, they were at Mardel’s because it was one of that dying-breed: an overtly Christian bookstore, courageously day by day fighting the forces of secularism determined to eradicate such spiritual holdouts as this one.

After we’d sold out all the Lincoln books early, I debriefed with Dana Oswalt, long-time Mardel’s bookstore manager, about all I’d experienced. Since she’d tuned in to the broadcast herself, she knew they’d be coming. She now confessed how deeply moved she’d been by what she’d seen and heard at my booksigning table.

* * * * *

But back to the Castle. All too soon, we took off our headphones, breathed giant sighs of relief that we’d made it through the two hours without a glitch–even without Denise. But mainly, we were almost incapable of speech because of the intensity of it all. Then G.M. Jack Pelon came in to thank us. Which led to some needed semi-comic relief. “Have you seen our owls?” His office, it turns out, is full of owl photographs he’s taken. Serendipitously, even though it was now day, several of the owls, high up the castle wall, blearingly peered down at us–but their owlet babies were evidently taking a nap so never got to see them.

It is said that owls are wise birds. Judging by this family of owls that condescends to share their castle with its human inhabitants, it appears that they too can sense the calming, peaceful, yet energizing presence of the Great God of Us All in the rooms below.

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Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club #17 – Hale’s “The Man Without a Country’

BLOG #6, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #17
EDWARD EVERETT HALE’S THE MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY
February 6, 2013

Since February is our shortest month, and since we’re already almost a week into it, I’m being merciful to our faithful readers and choosing one of the shortest books I know of as this month’s selection.

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Since my book Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories is due to come out in June, I felt it would be fitting for me to take the month we celebrate Lincoln’s birthday and weave in a small little book that so ties into that great war that it is inextricable.

Edward Everett Hale (1822 – 1909) was born in Boston of illustrious stock. His father was proprietor and editor of the Boston Daily Advertiser; his uncle, Edward Everett, was considered to be the nation’s leading orator (it was he who gave the main address at Gettysburg – Lincoln’s part was an afterthought); and his great uncle, Nathan Hale, was a Patriot spy during the Revolutionary War who, when captured by the British, just before he was hanged the following day), uttered those now immortal words, I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.

Edward Everett also had a distinguished career, graduating from Harvard in 1839, pastor of leading churches prior to becoming Chaplain of the United States Senate. A prolific author, he wrote for such journals as The North American Review, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Christian Examiner, besides penning or editing more than sixty books – fiction, travel, sermons, biography, and history.

But out of all his prodigious output, only one book has stood the test of time: The Man Without a Country, first published in The Atlantic Monthly. Though a work of fiction, there were certainly real-life prototypes to draw from, men who proved to be traitors to their nation while continuing to profess loyalty. One traitorous congressman, Lincoln, rather than having him executed, had him arrested and escorted by Union soldiers under a flag of truce into a Confederate army headquarters, where he was delivered into their care with the explanation that here is where he wished to be. The entire nation laughed. But the ex-congressman wasn’t happy there either. Hale wrote in such a realistic style that many readers assumed it to be factual. It did much to strengthen the Union cause and encourage more citizens to make love of country central to their lives.

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It is an easy but poignant read, well worth the time and effort it till take you to track down a copy and read it:

The Man Without a Country, by Nathan E. Hale (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1888). It has been reprinted many many times.

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