Tag Archives: Europe

The Enduring Passion


“The little bit you and me might change the world,” Malloy smiled, “it wouldn’t show up until a hundred years after we were dead. We’d never see it.”
“But it’d be there.”

~James Jones, From Here to Eternity

The essential thing “in heaven and earth” is . . . that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.

~Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.

~ The Book of Judges 2:10

Our ancestors gazed into the heavens and saw the vast array of stars. With no streetlights, no cars, and only the light of their cook fires, they could look deep into the cosmos and see beauty that few humans today will ever behold. By those stars they observed the passage of months, and years, and lifetimes. Later, they would learn to sail ships and travel the seas, guided by the position of the stars that they had traced in the sky over millennia.

They worshiped what they did not know, building what Paul would later call “altars to an unknown god.” Not knowing their Creator, they revered instead what He had created, dragging massive stones more than a hundred miles to this high plain they’d selected. From start to finish, the construction took them over a thousand years.

Think of it – with an average life expectancy of only 30-40 years, how many generations did it take to move these stones? They left no written records, had nothing but spoken words to pass to their children. How could they sustain such an effort to completion? How did they pass along this passion for worship from one generation to the next? And the next? And the next?

On a cold and rainy day last July, I stood on this high plain and contemplated their monument to the stars. How many nights did they sleep in the shadow of these stones?  How many mornings did they awaken to this grey fog, chilled to the bone, with the slippery rain soaking their furs? And on how many days, over a thousand years, did they take up their ropes and their tools, and place their hands against the cold stone once again?

How quickly we abandon what we once desired to create. How soon we grow bored with one form of entertainment and are ready to move on to the next. We have convinced ourselves that anything worth having can be achieved quickly, and that our problems can be resolved within the boundaries of a 30 minute sitcom, such that now we can barely focus our attention on an idea for a single generation, let alone ten. Or twenty. Or thirty. We struggle to pray for but five minutes, and our mind begins to wander to the shopping list and the car repairs and the row we had with our wife last night.

Could we sustain one singular passion for our lives, and pass it on to our children, and they to theirs? Could we devote ourselves to worship for a thousand years? Can we learn again to be pilgrims, spending our lives on the journey to the Father’s house, learning to love the Way, even as we long for Home?


A Little Talk at Westminster

Seventy years ago today, in a little Midwestern town just down the road from where I was raised, a very famous British person came and gave a speech that would galvanize the Western world against the growing threat of Soviet domination in Europe. It was widely regarded as the most important post-WWII speech given by Winston Churchill. Russian historians consider it the opening salvo in the conflict between Western Europe and the Soviet Union, and mark this date as the official beginning of what would come to be known as the Cold War.

Although the official title was “The Sinews of Peace,” we generally refer to it as The Iron Curtain Speech. Given in the gymnasium of a tiny private Presbyterian college as part of the John Findley Green Foundation Lecture series, it stands as a technical masterpiece – Churchill pulling together multiple themes into a singular climax that captured his audience. And while he wasn’t the first to use the phrase Iron Curtain to describe separation of East and West along the lines of ideology, he certainly made it stick.

On this unseasonably warm March day, my father was still two years from being born. My grandfather, his brother, and hundreds of young men from the farms and small towns around Fulton were just home from the war, finding jobs and settling down with the girls who had waited for them. One can imagine the former Prime Minister, being driven down narrow Missouri farm roads with Harry S. Truman in a great, dark car, slowing to make way for the tractors  and the occasional drawn cart. Many great speech-makers have come to Fulton since this day seventy years ago – Thatcher, Reagan, Walesa, even Gorbachev – but we’ve forgotten those speeches. This one stands.