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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CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA – DAY ONE

    BLOG #42, SERIES 4
    WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
    CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA
    DAY ONE
    October 16, 2013

I just returned from a most memorable weekend in Philadelphia and Gettysburg.  The appointment had been made a number of months ago, but until I actually arrived there I had only the haziest idea of what I might meet there.  All I knew was that a certain Pastor Trevor loved my 2008 biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage, and wanted to know if I’d be willing to speak to his church on the subject of Abraham Lincoln.  By the time I got there, my newest book, Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories had just arrived.

What a wonderful experience it turned out to be!

I would be dividing my time between the church’s men and their sons, and the church’s high school students.

Since I’ve never belonged to a congregation of more than 3,500 members, it was a radically new experience for me to be speaking to a church of 10,000 members, plus 5,000 teens and children.  A church with a staff of forty; sixteen being full-time pastors.

I might as well confess that up until last weekend, I didn’t think much of large or mega churches.  Mainly, I guess, because I’d never before experienced one first-hand.  With that many people, I really didn’t see how the average member could have his/her needs met.  I even wondered whether or not there might be more than a little of Elmer Gantry-ism in their leadership teams.

But rather than ramble on in generalities, let me tell you what it was like being there.  I’d be spending my first morning with about 500 of their teens attending Calvary Christian Academy.  I spent considerable time at home writing what I hoped would be an interesting lecture, but, as I continued to pray about the weekend, gradually I was convicted that I ought to ask Pastor Trevor if he’d be willing to get the young people to write out questions that intrigued or interested them (on subjects such as Lincoln, writing, authors, reading, life, etc.—whatever might be on their hearts).  He relayed that message to the teachers.   And so it was, after a three-hour rain delay, I arrived late; but there was this imposing stack of questions—and I’d be speaking to them the next morning.  I finished at 1 a.m.  Believe me, they’d taken me at my word: Here are just a few of their questions:

    PUBLIC SPEAKING

•    How do you handle talking to large groups?
•    Were you always good at speaking to large groups?  If not, how did you overcome that fear?

    READING/WRITING

•    Do you have to know how to use direct objects and predicate nominatives to be a writer?
•    Do you have to be a good reader and like to read to be a good writer?
•    How does journaling help you become a better writer?
•    As a journaler, do people write about their lives or what went on in the world?
•    Does traveling to historic places give you inspiration?

    QUESTIONS DIRECTED AT ME

•    How do you become an author?
•    What is your favorite color?
•    How did you come to know God?
•    What is it like knowing people are reading books you wrote?
•    How do you know what God’s plan is for your life?
•    What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
•    Why did you decide to write biographies about people?
•    Do you ever run out of ideas to make your books better than your previous books?
•    How do you create great books that are interesting to most age groups yet talk about God too?
•    How does it feel to be known and famous?
•    What do you do when you don’t know what to write about?
•    As a professional writer to a young writer, what is the best way to improve one’s writing capability?
•    Which of your works are you most proud of?

    ABRAHAM LINCOLN

•    How long did you study Abraham Lincoln for your book?
•    What made Lincoln a great leader?
•    What do you think was Lincoln’s greatest flaw?
•    In your opinion, what was the single most difficult decision made during Lincoln’s presidency?
•    Was Lincoln a Christian man?
•    What was the hardest decision Lincoln had to make as president?
•    When Lincoln was president, did he have people to discuss his decisions with, and did they agree or disagree?
•    Was Lincoln personally interested in freeing slaves?  Or was it just a political move?
•    How did Lincoln feel about his widespread fame?  How did he handle it and stay humble?
•    Why in most photos does Lincoln wear a top hat?
•    Did Lincoln struggle with the paparazzi?
•    Elaborate on the dream Lincoln had just before he died.
•    How do you think our nation would be different without Lincoln and his faith in God?
•    The Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous speeches in history.  Yet he went after another man.  Could you tell us about him?
•    What was the single event in Lincoln’s life that set the stage for what he became?
•    Did Lincoln want to be president as a child?

    * * * * *

As you can see, their questions were not only insightful, they reveal that their Calvary Christian Academy history teachers really teach their students history!  Many college students today wouldn’t have been able to field questions as deep as many of these.  Nor be as knowledgeable about history.

Not only that, but they were most attentive, alert, interested in the subject, and respectful.  Afterwards, a number came up front to ask for my autograph—one wanted it on her wrist. 🙂

    THE FAITH OF LINCOLN

In the evening, I spoke to 400 – 500 fathers and sons about Lincoln’s faith in God–while young; when as an adult he put God on hold for many years, and then when his second son, Eddie, died, how he recognized his great need for God; and finally how, during the Civil War, only his moment by moment reliance on God made it possible for him to face the horrific casualties (620,000 – 750,000), more than all the rest of our wars put together).  I also discussed the need for parents to return to the daily story hour so that they can minister to their children’s spiritual  needs from day to day.

Afterwards, for several hours, I signed their Lincoln books (both the biography and the new story anthology).

Then I was ferried back to the motel.  Next day was Gettysburg.  Will fill you in on that next week—what it was like during the government shutdown!

Curacao

NETHERLANDS ANTILLES

CURACAO

ITS HISTORY

This strategic island is the largest of the Netherlands Antilles, with 383 square miles of land mass, and a population of over 140,000. It was one of the first Caribbean islands to be inhabited: The Amerindian Arawaks came across from South America about 4,500 years ago.

Alonso de Ojeda came here in 1499 and claimed it for Spain. Interesting story about the island’s name: many of Ojeda’s men came ashore gravely ill of scurvy, that bane of sailors in those pre-refrigeration days. Once on the island, citrus fruit cured the scurvy; in gratitude, the Spaniards dubbed the island “Corazon” (heart), hence Curacao.

The Dutch invaded the island in 1634, and have held it almost continuously since then. Willemstad, with its natural deep harbor, made it a natural as a slave depot. During centuries of slavery, close to half of all slaves being ferried across the Atlantic from Africa, stopped here.

Great forts such as Fort Amsterdam, Fort Riffort, Fort Nassau, Fort Beekenburg, and Fort Wankzaamheid made the island close to impregnable. During World War II the Allies used the island as a military base.

Capitol City of Willemstad

Shell Oil came here in 1915 to begin the oil era.

Other than the slave period, which came to an end in 1863 when King William III abolished slavery in all Dutch possessions. Curacao has always been known for its tolerance of all, religions as well as races. In fact, the oldest Jewish synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue was constructed here in 1651. Over fifty different nationalities peacefully coexist here.

Today, the port is one of the largest and most active ports in the world.

REACTIONS

Colorful buildings on waterfront.

Here too, Connie and I had spent considerable time during our 25th anniversary trip, so we just savored Willemstad. It was a stunningly beautiful day, the temperature balmy. It is a great shopping city. But what impressed us both—and the Earps and Riffels as well—was the cleanliness of the city and the harbor. We can thank an early island governor for the visual tour de force tourists experience here. He complained loudly that the blindingly white buildings gave him excruciating headaches; as a result, the buildings were painted in lovely pastel shades.

Swinging bridge opening to let barge in

The main action appears to center on the famous Queen Emma Swinging Bridge. Whenever a ship or yacht comes through—which is often!—the people are stopped at both ends, and the long bridge slowly begins to swing open. While this is happening, passengers can cram into free ferries and cross that way. As Bob and I sat sipping Cokes at a wharfside café, we watched the people throng by—people from all over the world—the Queen Emma’s bridge with mimes bringing traffic to a halt in the middle of it (when its gates open again, of course).

Queen Emma Swinging Bridge - Connie talking to Mime

That evening, we watched Obama’s “State of the Union” message on our stateroom TV. How interconnected our world is today!

Rarely have I ever been more reluctant to leave a harbor city than I was when, toward sunset, the Constellation sailed out to sea.

Next week – Bonaire.