Michelle Ule's Blog
July 22, 2014
Mary Roberts Rinehart, American writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The heroine in my current novel is a would-be World War I foreign correspondent, but I had no idea how rare a bird she was until I went looking for a real one on which to pattern her.
Only one woman got to the trenches and interviewed the famous.
Perhaps because she was famous herself?
I recognized her name, as would mystery lovers: Mary Roberts Rinehart.
A novelist and journalist, as well as a mother and wife to a noted physician, Rinehart was sent to the Belgium front in early 1915–three months after World War I began–by The Saturday Evening Post.
Even in her book written about that time, Kings, Queens and Pawns, An American Woman at the Front, Rinehart couldn’t explain how she got the access to travel and meet some of the notables of the time–though with propaganda raging on both sides of No-Man’s Land, she acknowledged she might have been used for propaganda purposes.
A former nurse, she traveled under the auspices of the Red Cross and as such, had letters of transit, visas, letters from people like Lord Admiral Churchill and Field Marshall Sir John French, which enabled her to travel all the way up to the trenches.
The only woman.
From Rinehart’s journal, January 25, 1915, as she visits a Belgium hospital in LaPanne–where the King and Queen of Belgium were temporarily housed:
“11 pm: The Night Superintendent has just been in to see me. She says there is a baby here from Furnes with both legs off, and a nun who lost an arm as she was praying in the garden of her convent. The baby will live, but the nun is dying.
Midnight: A man in th enext room has started to moan. Good God, what a place! He has shell in both lungs, and because of weakness had to be operated on without an anaesthetic.
2 am I cannot sleep. He is trying to sing “Tipperary.”
English Battleships are bombarding the German batteries at Nieuport from the sea. The windows rattle all the time.
6 am A new day now. A grey and forbidding dawn. Sentries every hundred yards along the beach under my window. The gunboats are moving out to sea. A number of French aeroplanes are scouting overhead.”
Grim though this is, the Allies wanted her to report what she saw–as long as it favored their narrative. Click to Tweet
To that end, they made arrangements for her to meet the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, as well as King Albert I (of note, the royal children spent the war in England with Lord and Lady Curzon to ensure safety.)
King Albert I of Belgium
Both Rinehart and the Belgium king and queen knew she was there to hear their plea for help. Rinehart wrote a story that was passed through Belgium and British censors for the American public. Written early in the war, not long after Belgium opened the flood gates and sluices that had kept back the English Channel, and allowed their low-lying land to be flooded to try to slow down the German advance.
They flooded their fertile land to try to slow the German advance. Click to Tweet
As Rinehart wrote in admiration:
“As I write this one corner of her territory remains to her [Belgium] . . . a wedge shape, ten miles or so in width at the coast, narrowing to nothing at a point less than thirty miles inland. And in that tragic fragment there remains hardly any undestroyed towns. Her revenues are gone, being collected as an indemnity . . . by the Germans. King Albert himself has been injured. The Queen of the Belgians has pawned her jewels. The royal children are refugees in England. Two-thirds of the army is gone. And, of even that tiny remaining corner, much is covered by the salt floods of the sea.”
Lots of great reporting was done out of WWI. Much of it was censored, but the journalists worked hard to get around those military red-pencils. Rinehart had the ear of the powerful and a major magazine to back up her work.
Do women war correspondents see the story differently than men? Click to Tweet
But I think a woman correspondent looked at things from a slightly different angle–recognizing, perhaps, the humanity that quickly could become a soul-numbing blur of horrible statistics. Using her experience as a mother, nurse, socialite, novelist, playwright, Mary Roberts Rinehart brought a different, and necessary, sensibility to telling the story of the early war.
And she earned a place in my novel:
“I want to be the first women correspondent.”
“You’re too late, honey, Mary Rinehart is already there. She got into Belgium with the Red Cross.”
“Before she started writing mysteries, she was a nurse. They let her in to visit hospitals and she got as far as the trenches before someone realized she was a woman and sent her back. Still, maybe you can be the second.”
Mary Roberts Rinehart set an example worth emulating and told the necessary harrowing stories that needed to be exposed at the time they happened.
(See my next post: Mary Rinehart visits the trenches).
What’s the benefit of a female war correspondent? Click to Tweet
July 18, 2014
This is NOT my friend; Brazilian missionary baptizing.
A friend of mine is looking for partners in ministry as she prepares to return to the mission field.
What are partners in ministry?
She’s spent quite a bit of time focusing on finding folks to pray for her, because, as Oswald Chambers pointed out, “Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work.”
Once she filled out her calendar of people to pray for her 1/2 hour once a month, she felt more comfortable seeking other types of partners in ministry.
Partner, of course, means “a person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or company with shared risks and profits.”
Ministry is “a person or thing through which something is accomplished.”
My friend works with a Christian ministry in a foreign country–she spend a lot of time talking about the Gospel with people who don’t know anything about Christianity. To go there requires training on her part: she’s spent years leading Bible studies; she has a degree in Bible from Multnomah College; she’s learned a foreign language and visited her country several times. One of her relatively recent ancestors was born in the country and she loves their native foods.
She’s worked hard to free herself from local entanglements–given away most of her belongings, for example, and funded trips to her country. She’s spoken to church groups far and wide about her “calling” (a strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work ) and funded and raised sufficient funds to go. She’s attended courses, conferences, and spent a considerable amount of time taking the Perspectives on the World Missions classes.
Her home church supports her, with prayer and finances; many of her friends and relatives do the same. She’s worked hard to earn their trust, be diligent with her finances and time and prays a great deal.
Working in another country requires stamina and an openness to new ideas. It also requires a visa. She’s worked through the requirements, been honest, and got a visa to return to her country.
An international missions organization watches out for her–she’s accountable–and a missions organization in her country has extended an invitation for her to work with them. She’s got colleagues in that nation desperate for her return.
She’s prepared to spend the rest of her life far from friends and family.
What is her motivation?
Love and thankfulness for Jesus: the way, the truth and the light.
Praying for her, that greater work, is what she needs most.
But as the time draws near for her to return, she also needs more financial backing for that international missions organization to feel comfortable authorizing her return.
In the New Testament, Christians are reminded of a key fact about those who work: “A workman is worthy of his/her hire.” People who work in ministry, should be provided for by those whom God has called to a different service.
Its an Old Testatment concept as well. The Levites, the priests, were supported by the community so they could devote themselves to the spiritual welfare of the temple. They didn’t own land, their sustenance was supplied by those who benefited from their spiritual counsel.
That’s not true for missionaries in foreign countries, though it can become true if they plant a church and live their long enough.
I’m not called to move to another country and present the Gospel. I am called, however, to support my sister in Christ. I, therefore, am a partner in ministry.
Are you? Click to Tweet
“To be a partner in ministry involves giving, of my time and my prayers, and my finances. It also involves looking for ways to be involved or to support them. I will be having someone to dinner next week here that I support. I want to hear and listen to what they have been doing and ask questions.
The same is true of my supporters, they are the ones that ask questions and want to know. They go out of their way to greet me when I am home. I appreciate those who send a brief response when they get my email newsletter – it shows that they care and that they are interested, and even, that they read it!”
Partners in ministry include folks on prayer chains, or in our church eprayer lists (our church prayer requests go out via email).
My missionary friend knows she has people to pray if she asks, which is very important to the need, but also to her peace of mind.
A local friend had a similar definition:
Ministry partner for me means supporting in prayer, with financial gifts, volunteering to help out the ministry with one’s areas of gifting, promoting the ministry to others who may choose someday to become partners, too, and making an effort, if feasible, to visit the ministry to help alongside.
Because I love to travel, I like that idea of visiting the missionary in her country. Maybe someday . . .
I’ve known people over the years who have visited children they’ve sponsored through World Vision or Save the Children (my godson works for Save the Children), and while they may have started out to visit for the exotic excitement, they’ve returned humbled and awed by how little money has impacted children in such an enormous way.
What else should we expect when God’s power is at work? Click to Tweet
Which takes me back to those original definitions. Partner implies I feel a type of responsibility for the work–emotional, spiritual, financial–and I’m willing to share the risks and the profits.
For a Christian ministry the profits are clear: souls freed by Jesus’ death on the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit to worship God. Freedom from sin and death.
Sitting in my comfortable English-speaking home in safe, clean-watered, healthy California, what risks are involved?
None in the physical; but in the spiritual?
I’m waiting for one word: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.”
As partners in ministry, that means supporting, helping, aiding, providing resources and, most importantly, praying for my missionary friends.
How about you?
July 15, 2014
So, what do the words conjure: Imperial Camel Corps?
Do you envision the magi crossing the desert sand bearing gifts for the Christ Child?
Do you see a camel wearing a crown and a uniform?
How about marines riding camels?
The third choice would be closer to the truth.
I wrote recently about my need to investigate camels. You can read about them and their salivary problems (they’re not spitting, they’re throwing up on you) here.
I’d encountered them fairly early in my WWI research when I investigated Lawrence of Arabia and others out in the desert. It was a cute idea and some of the photos (which you can view on my Pinterest board World War I Egypt) were adorable with soldiers riding one-humped dromedaries.
ICC memorial, London
But their need was genuine and they served an important role in the Middle Eastern Theater of World War I. So important a role to Great Britain, that a monument to them stands in London, not far from Cleopatra’s Needle on the banks of the Thames River.
The British army first used camels in 1912 in Somaliland. Once World War I began, however, they realized their importance in both the Libyan and Sinai desert. The camels could travel three- to six miles every hour while loaded with soldiers, provisions and ammunition, and only needed to be watered every five days.
Originally stationed near Heliopolis, just north of Cairo, they were able to go either east or west as the need arose for fighting.
The corps traveled in groups of about 130 men and were expected to operate as independent units. They raced to their location and the soldiers dismounted to fight as infantrymen. As an added bonus over horses (who never would have lasted in the sand), camels weren’t particularly nervous around artillery and shooting.
Preferring to chew their cud, as it were.
One camelier could look after a dozen camels while the other soldiers fought.
NZ ICC hat badge
The cameliers originally were local Egyptian camel handlers, basically recruited into the British Army and commanded by British officers. After Gallipoli, soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand army became cameliers. Eventually more than 20,000 camels were used in driving the Ottoman Turks out of the Sinai.
The Imperial Camel Corps first entered the fighting units in the Sinai in March, 1916. They fought all the way up into Palestine, as sub-units of the Australian Light Horse Brigade. By 1918, two units had joined Lawrence of Arabia in the transjordan area east of Jerusalem for the Arab Revolt.
They disbanded after the close of the war, in 1919, with most of the camels going to the Arab army at the behest of British officer T.E. Lawrence of Arabia.
New Zealand History on line quoted one soldier about selling off the Imperial Camel Corps animals:
“We were sorry for the camels. Although we often cursed them, when they were to be taken away from us, we found that we had become quite attached to our ugly, ungainly mounts. The Arabs would not treat them as kindly as we had done, and we reckoned they were entitled to a long spell in country that suited them better than the rough and slippery mountain tracks of Palestine.” ~Trooper Frank Reid, No 12 (Australian) Company, 3rd Battalion, Imperial Camel Corps
In my novel, the camels were a novelty item for my heroine to visit, though while out in the desert, the camels were put to non-military use. When coming upon a downed airplane, an “ambulance” camel was called for–a cacolet–one that could carry injured people on either side of its hump.
The camels were strong enough, they could carry parts of the airplane back to base camp.
They really did act as ships of the desert, an imperial fighter, if you please.
Camel Cacolet for carrying wounded
(For further information, see With the Cameliers in Palestine.)
What is an Imperial Camel Corps? Click to Tweet
Why did the British Army recruit camels in WWI? Click to Tweet
July 11, 2014
English: The National Gallery, London Magyar: National Gallery, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I spent a good part of yesterday at London’s National Gallery of Art.
In my mind, and in cyberspace, looking at photos and paintings, hunting information and trying to peel back what happened there in World War I.
A rewrite of one of my chapters prompted a visit and while I, personally, have been to the art gallery four times, I needed to know what my heroine would see in 1914.
As in, was the museum even open?
The release this year of George Clooney’s Monuments Men and Cara Putnam’s Shadowed by Grace, brought the art stories of World War II into the consciousness of movie-goers and readers. The stories of Nazi looting and efforts to find and save great works of art is a thrilling drama of passion and war.
Google will tell you all about it, no matter how many “I”s you put after World War!
But what about World War I, when the airplane wasn’t capable of bombing a large building across the English Channel? Were the British worried about their treasures?
They were concerned about terrorists.
According to Wikipedia, at the National Gallery on March 10, 1914 (five months before war was declared):
Emma Pankhurst in jail
“The Rokeby Venus was damaged by Mary Richardson, a campaigner for women’s suffrage, in protest against the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst the previous day. Later that month another suffragette attacked five Bellinis, causing the Gallery to close until the start of the First World War, when the Women’s Social and Political Union called for an end to violent acts drawing attention to their plight.”
Did you catch that? They closed the museum against the threat of domestic terrorism by suffragettes, but opened it again at the start of the war. British officials obviously knew who could do real damage to their fine works of art!
Zeppelins did eventually cross the English Channel and do damage to London, including a bombing that happened not far from the National Gallery of Art. It’s important to remember the King of England was first cousin to the Kaiser of Germany, and the Kaiser directed his zeppelins to be careful about what they bombed. Apparently, the National Gallery was not worried.
That allowed me to set a scene early in my novel at the National Gallery of Art, after they walked past the statute of Lord Nelson on top of the very tall column in Trafalgar Square and past the four enormous bronze lions I like so very much!
The next problem became, what paintings would my heroine have seen? Click to Tweet
I had to find items that pertained to issues in my novel, as well as paintings that actually were in the museum at that time. I love the Leonardo daVinci cartoon, for example. I sat on a bench and nursed a baby while admiring it once. The theme was perfect!
The cartoon was purchased in 1964.
How about Rembrant? He’s always a favorite.
The perfect painting useful for the story also was purchased after World War II.
What a riot of angels on the roof in The Mystic Nativity!As I tell my children, there’s always a nativity painting in an art museum. I found a Boticelli that served my purposes beautifully: The Mystic Nativity.
Purchased in 1846, thank you very much!
The painting was important for my story because it was given its name by noted writer and artist John Ruskin. One of my characters admired Ruskin and having this painting gave the story added depth. Amazing what Wikipedia will help you with!
Baedekker’s London and its Environs provided additional information about what would be in the gallery. The only edition I could find online was from 1900, but anything there then, would have remained fourteen years later!
(See the advantage of using travel guides here.)
My heroine and her companions continued through the gallery and admired paintings by Turner–landscapes like those sketched by one of the characters. They also stopped in front of The Arnofili Marriage, which gave them an opportunity to admire illusion as created in the fifteenth century. They got so caught up in their discussions, they lost track of time and had to run back to work.
I also enjoyed their discussion, and finished my day’s writing just in time to go to a work event myself: painting.
It was the perfect ending for the day!
If you’ve added art into a book you’ve written, how do you do it? Do you describe it in detail, or include it on your Pinterest board?
If you’ve read about art in a book, do you try to picture it, or do you google and search?
Have you ever had a painting inspire your imagination while reading a book?
Were the British worried about National Gallery of Art treasures during WWI? Click to Tweet
Which was more dangerous? A suffragette or a Zeppelin? Click to Tweet
July 8, 2014
Oswald and Biddy; photo courtesy Wheaton College Special Collections library
He actually wasn’t looking for a wife at the time, but Oswald Chambers met a charming young woman one day and didn’t pay a lot of attention.
(The story is best told in detail in David McCasland’s Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God, but here’s a version based on McCasland’s book).
Dedicated to his Lord, Oswald led a mission at his brother Arthur’s church over Christmas in 1905. Among the people attending were a pair of sisters who had presented themselves for baptism and church members only two months before.
The church was Eltham Park Baptist in eastern London.
The women were Edith and Gertrude Hobbs, ages 26 an 22. Oswald was 31.
Nothing came of that meeting, though Oswald was now on Mrs. Hobbs’ radar, so to speak. It was a casual friendship between Oswald and the family, nothing more.
When Gertrude left London thirty months later to take a job as a stenographer in New York City, she happened to sail on the SS Baltic out of Liverpool. Among the other travelers was Oswald Chambers, on his way to the United States and a summer of camp meetings in Ohio.
Mrs. Hobbs wrote him a letter and asked, if it wasn’t too much of an imposition, for him to look out for “Truda” and provide help, especially when they landed in New York.
A genial man, always, Oswald agreed.
Busy preaching, teaching and leading meetings for the League of Prayer, Oswald was dedicated to one person: Jesus Christ.
He enjoyed traveling by sea because it afforded him long hours to sit in a deck chair and read. He usually carried a number of books with him when he sailed. Undoubtedly, he planned to do just that on this voyage: relax, read and think. Pray, too.
I’m sure he did.
When he wasn’t distracted by the pretty woman with brown hair, blue eyes and a kind smile.
He’d never quite examined Truda that closely before.
McCasland explains it this way:
“Why was he seeing it now? Strange thoughts and feelings rose within him, and he wasn’t sure if he liked them or not. No matter, for the next ten days courtesy required that he at least accompany her to meals and help her get acclimated to the ship. Once in New York, she would begin her new job, and for the next two months, he would be so occupied in preaching and counseling that thoughts of her would be the farthest thing from his mind.”
Except, all you romantics can imagine what happened next.
Because Oswald had a sister named Gertrude, he needed to give Gertrude Hobbs a nickname to differentiate the two in his mind. He thought “Beloved Disciple,” would work well, but it soon got shortened to B.D. and slid right into Biddy.
And that’s how we know her today.
He, meanwhile, was learning more.
Biddy, 1911; Photo courtesy Wheaton College Special Collections library
Back to McCasland:
“Every day aboard the SS Baltic, she and Oswald walked together, ate together, and discovered new things about each other. She admired his keen mind, his bright humor and the deep love he held for Jesus Christ. Oswald was impressed with everything about Biddy, from her determination and ability, to her love for animals and her genuine interest in people. How could they have shared so much in common without his realizing it before?”
By the time the ship docked in New York they’d agreed to correspond. When Oswald needed to travel between Cincinnati and camp meetings in Massachusetts and Maine later that summer, what do you think the chances were he stopped in New York City along the way?
By August, he wrote to Biddy like this:
“All in His good time we have the love, thank God, and the discipline of our characters alone or blended, it is all in his hands.”
An ocean apart
Oswald returned to England and a punishing schedule of League of Prayer meetings. Biddy stayed on in New York to work her job. She didn’t return until November, 1908.
The letters between them continued, Oswald was a prolific writer of letters, and grew in intensity until the preacher discovered the joy of sharing his heart with another.
In October he wrote to his beloved like this:
“I have nothing to offer you but my love and steady lavish service for Him.”
This did not seem to bother the unflappable Biddy.
Not long after, Oswald wrote to Biddy’s mother asking if she had any objections to his writing Gertrude, explaining that he loved her.
He then had to write the difficult letter to his own parents, explaining,
“I am in love and it is quite such a new experience that it opens up so many unknown things that I do not know quite how to put it.”
The problem, of course, was while in love, Oswald was a traveling preacher with little money, and no place of his own to lay down his head, much less share with a bride.
But Biddy had just as strong faith and believed that if God had brought them together, he would do so.
When she returned to England in November, they pledge their lives to each other and became engaged in front of Holman Hunt’s painting The Light of the World, in St. Paul’s Cathedral. You can read about that engagement here.
They were married May 25, 1910.
Trust me, they were happy! Photo courtesy Wheaton College Special Collections Library
Proverbs 31:10 asks the pertinent question: “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.”
Their life together shows that God can put together two to make a perfect match–whether Oswald was paying attention or not.
The courtship of Oswald and Biddy Chambers. Click to Tweet
A good wife, where did Oswald Chambers find her? Click to Tweet
July 4, 2014
Father of our country; not quite related to me, but close . . .
On this fourth of July, I’m thinking about what it means to be a revolutionary’s daughter.
My own father was a brilliant mercurial man, who served as a naval officer but was not revolutionary.
Our forefathers, however, were a different story.
In writing my family history (five years of research. You can find Pioneer Stock in the Library of Congress), I discovered I qualified for status as a Daughter of the American Revolution (DAR) eight times over.
Eight of my male ancestors were revolutionaries back in 1776-1783. (You did remember the war lasted seven years?)
Half were not soldiers but citizen “patriots” who provided material for the Continental Army in Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas.
Thomas Dodson Jr., Thomas “Second Fork” Dodson, Moses Hanks and Thomas Hill signed an oath of allegiance in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
That oath of allegiance was fierce:
“I renounce and refuse all allegiance to George the third, king of Great Britain . . . and that I will bear true allegiance to the commonwealth of Virginia . . . I will discover and make known to some one justice of the peace for the state, all treasonsor traitorous conspiracies which I now or hereafter shall know to be formed against this or any of the United States of America.”
There may have been pressure brought to bear on those who didn’t sign. The statue required non-signers to relinquish arms and to be refused permission to hold any office, serve on juries, sue for debts or purchase
A little further north in western Virginia, Joseph Neville Sr. was the father of two Revolutionary War generals, Joseph and John Neville. (I descend from a daughter). He’s regarded as a patriot because of his contribution of goods in kind. Virginia Revolutionary Publick Claims lists payments to him over the yeras for flour, sheep, salt mutton and pasturage. He also furnished rations for the Fiarfax and Loudon County Milita.
Family tradition says Abraham Hanks fought in the Revolutionary War for the colonists, but no one has been able to prove it.
Remarkable how often family tradition links you to the winners, isn’t it? Click to Tweet
Some of the younger ones, however, were firebrands: my ancestor Bennett ( a “marker” name in genealogical terms–it reappears in nearly every generation since 1776) and his brother Benjamin Posey enlisted in the Continental Army.
Benjamin, the elder brother, went first in March, 1777, when he was 17 years old. He served for three years in Capt. Benjamin Lusby’s Curry’s Company, probably out of Port Tobacco, Maryland.
My ancestor, Bennett enlisted as a private fifteen months later, just about the time he celebrated his sixteenth birthday. It’s probably worth noting their parents were dead and their grandparents both died in 1780 (when Benjamin inherited).
The Muster Rolls of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution 1778-1783, listed Bennett as being discharged on April 7, 1779, after serving a nine-months enlistment. He was a member of the First Regiment from the western shore (of Maryland). The Commissary of Stores for that regiment was charged to give
“Bennett Posy a 9 month sold in the 1st Regt. Dischd the amt of nineteen pounds, five shillings and six pence in cloathing [sic]”
The Muster Rolls of Maryland Troops noted “the disciple of the Revolutionary armies was not strict, and many left the ranks when they were needed at home, returning to the service after a few months.”
Infantry of the Continental Army. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Captain William Smith of Louisa County served at the direct request of neighbor Thomas Jefferson. (Would love to see that letter!) He was involved in obtaining gun stock for the army. He also provided goods: “one barrel, 42 gallons of whiskey.”
One of my Waddy kin suffered small pox during the terrible winter at Valley Forge and never recovered. (The Waddys were kinfolk to George Washington; as possibly were the Smiths).
Maybe a Loyalist or two?
Not everyone was a patriot in my family. Hastings Dial and his father-in-law James Abercrombie of Laurens County, SC, were wealthy men. Some believe Hastings may have been a colonel in the British Army, but that’s never been proven.
His brother Martin, however, was a rebel soldier serving under Colonel Hay’s Regiment and one of the few survivors of the Cane Brake Massacre. (We always think of him when we watch the movie The Patriot)
Family tradition has it Martin twice was captured by the British. He escaped the first time but legend has it he was to be executed the second time. Only Hasting’s intervention saved him.
(Local historians argue the above was unlikely. Hastings is not mentioned in records as having his land confiscated after the war and his name does not appear on lists of British officers. One historian points out the two brothers were rivals and the family history I read came from Hastings [and my] line).
What does it all mean?
Of course it’s something to be proud of–my ancestors fought to establish the country which has granted me so much freedom.
But while doing the research and reading about the Revolutionary War, I’ve come to feel an immense awe at what it meant to fight for the freedoms I treat so casually. Martin Dial was nearly shot. Hastings Dial could have been run out of his county. Any one of those men mentioned above and their families could have been burned out of their homes by the British Army. Samuel Waddy died from the injuries to his health suffered–suffered is exactly what the soldiers did that winter at Valley Forge–as a result of his commitment to the cause and his kinship to George Washington.
This fourth of July, I cannot hold their sacrifices–and their risks–lightly.
What does it mean to be the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of revolutionaries? Click to Tweet
Continental Army soldiers at Yorktown
Thankfulness. Respect. Awe. Honor.
and thanks be to the God, all those men worshipped.
Have you got any patriots in your family? Click to Tweet
Happy Fourth of July!
July 1, 2014
In May 2008, my businessman brother had an extra seat on a trip to China. He invited me to join him and on an incredibly clear day, we visited the Great Wall of China.
We’d flown up that morning from Shanghai, and he had an expatriate friend celebrating his children’s birthday at a rustic restaurant far out in the countryside. We paid our respects (I brought a copy of Go, Dog, Go for the two year old twins) and then headed northeast.
It was a beautiful May day, the fruit trees were blooming and the sky was a gorgeous blue. The driver took us through small villages and along a river. Hills loomed to the east.
When the road entered an open valley, I noticed something crawling along the top of the ridge: gray and patterned, my mind immediately went to a dragon (actually, the dragon in Frank Peretti‘s The Oath), and I marveled at the undulation over the hill top.
That was the Great Wall of China!
I glued my face to the window watching. Towers came and went, the hilltop dipped down and went up and the stone wall followed all the contours in an unbroken line. Click to Tweet
I tried to be casual about it, “oh, yeah, there’s the great wall,” but it drew my eyes and captured my imagination and I could hardly sit still.
My brother, of course, laughed.
I’d read several books about the Great Wall of China, long before I ever dreamed of seeing it. One, in particular, was the story of a woman who rode a horse along the entire length of the wall. The photos were marvels as she started at the ocean, where the wall began waist high, traveling the length of the wall across the country (nearly six thousand miles) until it petered out into stones in the Gobi Desert.
Fewer tourists at Mutianyu
We ended up at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China, about fifty miles northeast of Beijing. Our driver parked in a lot near the base of the hill and got out his magazine. We walked through a tourist village, past trinkets and hawkers, to a stone walkway. The towers beckoned, and it was nearly straight up.
It was a nice stretch through a green hillside filled with trees. It took maybe ten minutes until we came to a door at the bottom of a tower. We climbed up and walked out onto the wall.
As in, the Great Wall of China.
There was no one there.
All I’d heard about China was how crowded it was. A description from Paul Theroux‘s book Riding the Iron Rooster, had stayed with me for years: “In China, when you look out the window, someone is always looking back.” Click to Tweet
They weren’t at Mutianyu with us the day before Mother’s Day.
(Look at the photo on top. There are perhaps six people besides us).
On that day, six weeks before the start of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the sky stretched blue and clear. The views were glorious.
My brother was dumbfounded. “I’ve visited China maybe twenty times. I’ve never seen blue sky like this.”
We walked along the stone pavement to the farthest tower. The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu is a massive structure: 26 feet high; 15 feet wide. It stretches a couple miles before falling apart into overgrown trees.
From the tower, I looked out a window–a casement opening, basically–to the north. “There’s Mongolia,” I whispered, and felt the thrill of foreign names.
Mutianyu Slide; photo from Pinterest
The wall was originally built, of course, to keep out the Mongol hordes, but they breached it without too much effort in the thirteen century.
It never really was much of a strategic deterence, but as a beautiful, awe-inspiring spot, it serve its nation very well.
We enjoyed ourselves going down. Instead of hiking, we rode their “slide.”
Have you ever wanted to visit the Great Wall of China?
What would you do to keep out the invading hordes at your house?
June 27, 2014
100 years ago on June 28 Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was murdered in Sarajevo, launching into motion events that led to The Great War.
Everything about our modern world can, perhaps, be tied back to the assassination of both Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his beloved morganic pregnant wife Sophia.
Did it have to happen?
Does it matter?
It happened, the Great War occurred and your life is different as a result. Click to Tweet
(Mine exists; you’ll have to read my post coming up on August 5, 2014 to find out why and how.)
Serbia had been a restless part of the Austro-Hungarian kingdom for, oh, about 600 years. Eleven years earlier, Serbian nationalists had broken into the royal palace and killed the ruling King Alexander Obrenović and his wife, Queen Draga, in what became known as the May Coup.
Franz Ferdinand and Sophie
Archduke Franz Ferdinand himself was not a particularly popular fellow in either Austria or Serbia, but he and his wife traveled there anyway on a vacation. The deeply religious Catholic couple had attended mass that fateful morning and were riding in an open car to the town hall.
A Serbian nationalist threw a pocket bomb at the couple, but the driver saw it coming and swerved to miss. It fell inches behind the royal couple, Archduke Franz Ferdinand shoved it away and it exploded as the car zoomed away. Several people were injured.
Among the people lining the streets that day were a group of six young men of the “Black Hand” who had traveled to Sarajevo specifically to kill the Archduke. Despondent about missing their chance, they wandered away, one into a tea shop.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie continued with their planned outing, stopping at the town hall for a ceremonial welcome–the mayor read his script which mentioned how delighted everyone in Sarajevo was about the couple’s visit.
Franz Ferdinand & Sophie Leave Sarajevo GuildhallAs the doting father of four children, Franz Ferdinand insisted on being taken to the hospital to visit the people injured in the attempted bomb assassination. The Bosnian military governor assured him there would be no further trouble, claiming “if I know anything about the Serb fanatics, they are capable of only one assassination attempt a day.”
Unfortunately, the chauffeur got lost driving them to the hospital. When the governor realized his error, he stopped the driver and told him to turn around.
The driver shifted gears, but while doing so “in a coincidence that has reverberated down the decades,” according to G. J. Meyer in The Story of the Great War, he stopped right in front of Gavrilo Princip. The one Black Hand assassin who had not been arrested already and the leader of the gang, pulled out his revolver and fired twice.
He got both Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. The Archduke was heard to cry, “Sophie dear; Sophie dear, don’t die. Stay alive for our children.”
They were both dead within minutes.
Princip died in prison of tuberculosis nearly four years later.
What does Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s death have to do with you? Click to Tweet
More than you know.
The Great War shook up Europe and took a wealthy continent and fire blasted it to ruins. When it finally ground to what the French consider a long cease fire and the Germans regard as the middle of the European Civil War, the Spanish flu killed 50 million people world-wide. Out of those grim ashes came American super power notions as the saviors of the world and ultimately, Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
You don’t think any of that affected your life?
I’ve been reading World War I history since February, 2013. It’s a continuing source of agony to read about all the small events that led to the big one. Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany was on vacation in a Scandinavian fjord and unreachable. The nervous heads of Europe had treaties requiring them to come to the aid of other nations. Once the Russian tsar called up his reservists, there was no going back–it took a week for them to get into place and in those years of stick telephones and Morse Code telegrams, the soldiers could not be recalled and returned home.
(For another way to understand what happened to start the war, consider If World War I was a bar fight.)
As a result of the Great War:
*the United States became a major player in international affairs–we were an isolationist nation before.
* The center of world banking shifted from London to New York.
* France lost so many men and so much of their industrial capabilities were destroyed, they had little ability or much less enthusiasm to fight World War II.
* Germany was so bankrupted paying reparations, the National Socialist Party was able to take over the country within a generation.
* Russia’s weak tsar was overthrown and Communism became the ruling power, ultimately leading to the Iron Curtain and the Cold War after World War II.
* European colonies were dismantled throughout the world.
* The breakup of the Ottoman Empire resulted in countries like Iraq being formed of ethnic groups that didn’t get along. All of the Middle East was divided up following the end of World War I. (Thanks a lot, Lawrence of Arabia).
* Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia (important to me), Bosnia and Herzogovina were mixed into a country called Yugoslavia.
* Anti-semitism rose, ultimately leading to the Holocaust.
An expanded list can be found here.
Would any of the these had happened–and you have to admit they’ve effected you in some ways–if Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie had gone elsewhere on their vacation? Click to Tweet
Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
How did World War I affect your life?
June 24, 2014
I’m nearing the end of my novel rewrite and I’m spending a lot of time pruning words from my text.
It’s made me consider how often I, among others, use too many words–whether in writing or speaking.
My husband occasionally complains that I feel compelled to explain everything.
“It’s not enough you tell the children to do something, you then go on and on and on about why they should do it. You’re prolonging the misery of giving them orders.”
He’s a military officer, of course he would see it that way: short and sweet: “Go!”
I don’t know if this is the difference between male and female; first born and last born, story tellers and actors–but we have a conflict of interest here.
I needed explanations growing up–I wanted more words than I got.
He, apparently, didn’t care.
Our children don’t seem to care either. So, I’ve been pruning words–in my speech–for years.
At least it feels that way to me.
Gardeners will tell you trees need to be pruned for a variety of reasons: to let in air for better circulation, to allow light into the interior of the tree, to cut off excess weight and to balance what a tree looks like. Those are all excellent reasons to prune a manuscript.
And since words are like leaves (and easier to get rid of than sawing off enormous branches of unnecessary scenes), I like to start there.
For more thoughts on the pruning metaphor, check out my guest post on Jamie Chavez’ blog here.
As a writer, I’m advised to tell the story no matter how many words it takes and then go back–pruning words is a necessary part of editing.
I’m guilty of far too much explanation in my prose as well my directions to children, but in the last several projects I’ve worked on, word count has been important, so I’ve been pruning words as I go along.
Or now, in the rewrite, slashing at the thicket of unnecessary verbiage to find simpler statements that are
1. easier to understand
Grapevines before pruning
2. faster to read
3. and give me more words to use elsewhere.
Here’s an example from my current manuscript:
“She pawed through the pages, vaguely remembering when he’d talked about sin and feelings.”
Not bad, fourteen words, but I’ve got a limited number and that gerund weakens the sentence.
This is one way to tighten it up:
“She flipped the pages looking for his thoughts on sin and emotions.”
Okay I only saved two words. Let’s try another.
“She has a child to think about and family in England. What good is staying in a desert hut with foul smelling soldiers and grieving followers begging her for wisdom?” (30 words)
“She can take her child home to England. Why stay in the miserable desert with mourners begging for answers to impossible questions? (22 words)
Better or worse?
And a third:
“She drew her niece close and they stood together until Sylvia’s rigid body relaxed and her head drooped naturally to Anne’s shoulder.” (22 words)
I’m narrowing this to:
“Anne hugged Sylvia until her niece’s rigid body relaxed and she sobbed freely.” (13 words)
I can’t decide which works better.
Perhaps it needs to be read in context?
Most writers have a list of “overused” words. Mine includes
English: Pruning : before – after Français : Élagage : avant – après (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I like to do a “word census” to determine which words I’m overusing in a manuscript. Click to Tweet
It makes pruning words easier to find.
I’ve written about this on Books & Such’s blog. You can read it here.
I’ve got quite a bit left to go–pruning words, wise–and so I’ll get back to it.
What words do you overuse–whether in speech or writing? Click to Tweet
June 20, 2014
Seven summers ago, I stopped in to visit my friend Jane for a lovely afternoon in her charming screened- in Connecticut porch.
We discussed genocide.
That had not been the plan when I arranged to visit, but when I walked into the porch, I stopped beside a stack of books. I knew the titles, books like these:
Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
I picked them up , shaking my head over the ones that had baffled me, and feeling yet again the oppressive grief that came from such a horror.
“Why are you reading these?” I asked, explaining what I’d thought of each of them.
Jane fell into her porch chair. “You’re the only person I know who would have read all those books.”
I shrugged. “I just couldn’t get my head wrapped around why someone would suddenly decide to kill a neighbor. I was reading to find out why.” Click to Tweet
“Did you find out?” she asked.
Jane is a professor of education. She’d been approached by several students and asked if she’d teach a course about genocide. She thought about it and said yes. That summer she was preparing to teach.
“What else do you know about genocide?” she asked as she poured iced tea.
Surprisingly, I knew a great deal. We discussed it all afternoon.
She even took notes.
As it happened, I’d been challenged to read a thick book called Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur by Ben Kiernan, a few months earlier by a man I knew only as
Cover via Amazon
“Random Name,” on World Magazine‘s then-blog.
Another writer and I had taken up the opportunity to read through this dense history of genocide. I’m not sure how Wendy managed, but I only got half way through. Who knew a million people lived in the Mekong delta of Vietnam in 1000 had spent a summer killing each other?
As Kiernan relayed story after story of people deliberately choosing to terminate someone’s life, I felt overwhelmed by man’s inhumanity to man. I was also astonished no one, seemingly, could get along. Nothing seemed to satiated the drive to kill those who had something someone else wanted. Click to Tweet
Here in the Christian end of things, we call that sin.
Sin, of course, always equals death.
Jane and I talked about the Holocaust; Armenia; the extermination of the native Americans in north America by means of smallpox-infested blankets; the Comanches (Empire of the Summer Moon explains quite well the dastardly role of the Texas Rangers in that slaughter) and several areas she had a particular interest in: Darfur, Kosovo, and Cambodia.
(Did you know the first thing the Khmer Rouge did when they took power in Cambodia was to kill everyone who wore glasses? They figured if you wore glasses, you could read; and if you could read you could think and therefore would be a threat to them. See the film, The Killing Fields.)
Jane’s area of expertise is children’s literature, and she’s recently written a book providing educators with bibliographies about genocide in children’s books–books intended to help children understand what to make of the world, particularly if they’ve been the victims of terror. It’s called Genocide in Contemporary Children’s and Young Adult Literature: Cambodia to Darfur (Children’s Literature and Culture) by Dr. Jane M. Gangi.
This is a college text book and not easily read, but Jane put it together for educators trying to make sense of the world. She used a multi-dimensional approach, and we talked about ways genocide can be reflected in art. Paintings, music, sculpture, poetry, film.
I bought the CD on Colson’s recommendation and the first time I listened to it, turned on the stereo and returned to email. I was writing away, when my mind wandered to my grandmother, recently deceased, and then my mother. Before I knew it, I put my head down on the computer and sobbed.
It was the music, touching a part of my sorrowing heart I didn’t even know needed lancing.
We live in a time of what feels like unprecedented killing. But that summer, I remembered murder and death–sin–have been going on since Cain and Able. Click to Tweet
As a Christian, I know of only one way to mitigate the power of sin’s horror to destroy: that’s knowing Jesus Christ died on behalf of all sinners.
It doesn’t take away the grotesque nature of genocide; it merely gives me one way to cope with the knowledge that men and women have always killed others.
Literature can tell us what, but not explain; films can show us how, but not explain; music can help us grieve, but not explain.
I come back to Jesus, always, and remember his words: “weep with those who weep.”
When I left Jane that beautiful afternoon, we hugged each other, thankful for what we shared and for what Jane went on to teach.
Genocide on a summer’s day. Click to Tweet