Travel Feed

Istanbul: Memories and the City

Istanbul: Memories and the CityIstanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have this sense that Istanbul ought to be the great city of the world, based upon its long history and grand location. Pamuk, the great Turkish novelist and Nobel prize winner, instead writes about the melancholy of the city almost two centuries into its decline from being one of the great cosmopolitan capitals of the world.

His tale of the city is highly personal, this book functioning both as a memoir of childhood and adolescence and something of his Ulysses--doing for Istanbul what Joyce's novel did for Dublin. One does feel as is if one has walked along and boated along many of the streets and shorelines after reading this book.

There is also an interesting engagement with the European gaze upon Istanbul, with much attention to 19th century writers and painters who visited the city. Unlike Edward Said's critique of orientalism, Pamuk has a more nuanced and complex interaction with the European gaze, particularly discussing the ways it has shaped him and shaped the city itself, but not fully rejecting it. These chapters form a rather lengthy section at the center of the book.

I delighted in the book at first, but grew weary of it as it continued. I do think it is rather too long, deserving of some substantial editing and condensing. Again toward the end there are some marvelous chapters, such as "First Love."

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Between the Rockies and a Hard Place

Between the Rockies and a Hard Place: A Drive Along the 100th Meridian from Mexico to CanadaBetween the Rockies and a Hard Place: A Drive Along the 100th Meridian from Mexico to Canada by Alan Wilkinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this book up in 2016 while in Red Cloud, Nebraska intrigued by how an Englishman might perceive the Great Plains.

The book has some interesting moments, but there is not a lot of depth of exploration of terrain, culture, or people. In fact, the author keeps complaining that he doesn't have the time to do that.

The best chapters are near the end. He is better acquainted with Nebraska, for instance, and so writes well about it. The chapters on the Dakotas are good. The earlier chapters less so.

The chapter on Oklahoma was the worst. I felt he spent no effort on trying to understand western Oklahoma but was rather in a hurry to get through the state. He traveled along the westernmost roads in the state, but I too have traveled those roads and know that while bleak there are also interesting discoveries worthy of richer exploration than what is given here.

But I'm glad to add another title to my abiding interest in better understanding the history, culture, and geography of the Plains.

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Rock City

Fortunately one trait Michael and I share in common is pulling off the highway to visit small town and roadside attractions.  Last week when I was alone en route to Oklahoma City, I decided to finally see what that "Rock City" sign at the Minneapolis, Kansas exit was all about.

First you have to drive through Minneapolis itself, which is filled with beautiful Victorian homes that are well-maintained.  This one was my favourite.


The downtown looked like many very small towns in the region, with this building being an interesting exception.


The town also had a fun looking city park across from the fairgrounds.  Not every day do you see a Ferris wheel in front of grain elevators.


You have to drive a few miles on the other side of town before you reach Rock City.  According to the brochure, ""There is no other place in the world where there are so many concretions of such giant size."


Also, according to the brochure, they are remnants of the sea floor. Everything around them eroded away.  Wikipedia has more information.


In the midst of a long day of driving, I enjoyed stretching my legs around these massive rocks.  


This one they call the "Donut Hole."  Sebastian could crawl through it.


DC Day Two--The Ideals of Our Republic

I awoke early in hopes of securing, via the website, timed entry tickets made available each morning to the African American History Museum, but during an hour of refreshing the webpage I never was able to secure any; someone always beat me to them.

So I enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the inn and chose to spend the morning walking around the monuments and memorials.  I thought that encountering the ideals of our republic would ennoble and inspire me.


Albert Einstein's statue is bigger than I realized.


I always cry at the Lincoln Memorial.

I'm always surprised by my grief that he was killed.  I cry as I read again the words of the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural.  I cry as I watch African American children joyfully getting their pictures taken.  

Sebastian is at that age where every time he sees or hears an airplane he gets excited.  Watching him I recall my childlike wonder.  But I also realized yesterday he not only possesses a wonder, but a naivete.  The plans approach National Airport are so close; every time I caught one out of the corner of my eye I was startled.  We don't experience planes with wonder anymore but with the possibility of horror.  

I decided since I've never walked around the Tidal Basin, I'd do that.  It was a very pleasant morning.


At the George Mason Memorial, which honors his role in assuring our rights, philosophy makes a good appearance with books by Cicero, Locke, & Rousseau.  He seems like a pleasant fellow.


I had read that the Jefferson Memorial was in bad shape, but I was still surprised.  Throughout the day I was struck by the number of turned off fountains, crumbling plazas, algae filled pools, and obnoxious security fences. You can see the rot at the heart of our democracy.

The African American History Museum sure makes statement boldly sitting next to the monuments to slave owners.

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My grandfather fought at the Battle of Anzio where he was so severely wounded that for a time they thought he was dead.  He spent six months in the hospital recovering.  In a recent podcast I shared this story.  Ordinary people like he are honored here for the roles they played in defeating tyranny and advancing the cause of liberty.

When I set out in the morning I hoped that encountering the ideals of our republic would be ennobling and reassuring, but the morning had only made me sadder, for we have failed to live up to our ideals. 

And all this before I learned that while I was re-reading quotes about sacrificing self-interest for liberty and the common good, the vile occupant of the White House was again acting like petty adolescent bully.  David French of the National Review wrote, “It’s a sad symbol of our times that one feels compelled to actually make an argument why the president is wrong here.  The pitiful reality is that there are people who feel like the man who sits in the seat once occupied by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan should use his bully pulpit for schoolyard insults and vicious personal attacks.”  That’s what has always bothered me about Trump—not him so much, for his is a pathetic, little man, but the millions of people who have voted for him, people who somewhere along the way failed to learn what the moral ideals of our nation are or were willing to risk them for an imagined short term gain.

For lunch I met up with Chris Rempert who was in my youth group in Dallas fifteen years ago. At the time he was a middle school kid.  Now he’s spent years in advocacy work for progressive causes


This was my first visit to the National Museum of the American Indian, and I did not expect that I would spend the entire afternoon, but I greatly enjoyed the exhibits and leisurely took my time to read and experience them, particularly the exhibit on Native spirituality and philosophy.


I spent the evening with Christie Platt whom I befriended at Yale in 2014.  What a delight to catch up with her and finally meet her husband.  Seeing her was one reason I had come to DC ahead of General Synod.


And so this morning I’ll take the train to Baltimore and weekend of colleagues and work on behalf of God’s people.

Observations and Reflections on a Day in the Nation's Capital

Mid-day I arrived in Washington, D. C., and I thought of my first visit in 1990 when I was sixteen.

I was traveling with the Akers family; their eldest son Rob was my best friend, even though they had moved to Dawson Springs, Kentucky.  Bob, the father and a Pentecostal Holiness pastor, was thrilled to show me the city, knowing my fascination with government, politics, and American history. We stayed in the suburbs and traveled in my metro, so Bob had us stop at Smithsonian station and emerge into the middle of the Mall.  I was giddy with excitement.  That day I took six rolls of film as we walked all over the city.

1990 was a vastly different era in Washington--far less security for one thing.  You visited the White House by getting tickets that morning and then going on a tour.  You could wander freely into and around the Capitol.  On that trip, when we separated to do different things, I sat in the Senate for three hours watching the debate.  Howard Metzenbaum's speaking notes were in such a big font that I could read them from the gallery.

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I'm on my way to Baltimore for the United Church of Christ's General Synod.  I decided to spend two days in D. C. just wandering around and catching up with friends. None of those were free today, so I had the afternoon and evening to myself. So I dropped the luggage at the Tabard Inn--where I'm staying near many embassies and the HRC national headquarters--ate lunch and had a chat with an Egyptian about the weather in his country and in Nebraska, and then I began walking down Connecticut Avenue.  I've got a pretty good map of Washington in my head.

I've only been in D. C. three other times--that tourist trip with the Akers in 1990, with the United States Senate Youth Program in 1992, and part of a day in 2011 with Rob Howard when we saw many of the new monuments and memorials on the Mall after a trip in the region visiting battlefields and before flying out.  The reason I have a pretty good map of the city in my head is because as a kid I puzzled over maps.  When I was here in '92 with the Senate Youth Program--a group of politics geeks--my fellows were amazed by my knowledge of the city, based not on experience but study of maps and history.

Heading down Connecticut I soon passed the Mayflower Hotel (much in the news a few weeks ago when Jeff Sessions testified before the Senate).  I stayed there for a week with the Senate Youth Program, so I have fond memories.  That program is funded by the Hearst Foundation and takes two kids from every state each year and brings them for a week of public policy engagement.  That week I saw President Bush, heard Colin Powell and Antonin Scalia speak, met with my Senators, had lunch with the ambassador in charge of protocol in the State Department dining rooms, and dined with diplomats from Russia at the Mayflower where we talked about the dramatic changes occurring since the Soviet Union's demise only five weeks before.  As I said, fond memories.

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I made my way past Saint-Gaudens masterful statue of Admiral Farragut and St. John's Church, which I attended one Sunday morning in 92, fortunately during a service where they explained all the elements of the liturgy, given that as a Southern Baptist I was not familiar.

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Then to Lafayette Square.  I had enjoyed the Square a quarter century ago and wanted to see it again.  Unfortunately much of it was closed off to construction.  In 1990 I had enjoyed the statue of Kosciuzko, so admired it again.  I believe there is a powerful statement in this park at the heart of our capital which honors the foreigners who helped us win our liberty.  Unfortunately the genocidal bastard Andrew Jackson has a statue in the center of the park. 


As I approached the White House, I struggled to refrain from crying.  The patriotic values that have mattered to me since childhood are under assault by the current, vile occupant.

The last time I stood in this spot, Pennsylvania Avenue was a busy street.  Now there is so much more security in this city.  It makes it uglier, all the barriers.

As I rounded the Treasury and headed toward the Mall, of course I admired the Washington Monument and then was shocked by how stunning the new National Museum of African American History and Culture is.  I was unable to reserve tickets for this trip, though I'm hopeful that I can get day of tickets tomorrow.  Knock on wood.

I decided to wile away my time visiting museum I hadn't seen in a quarter century.

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In the National Museum of American History I enjoyed seeing artifacts of American life, though overhearing conversations was dispiriting.  There was the woman who, looking at the chairs of Archie and Edith Bunker said, "I don't know who they are."  Or the child with her family who said "A wedding cake topper" which happened to be one of two men.  A parent said, "Don't look at that."  Ugh.

 I skipped the Natural History Museum, chatted with a cute volunteer from the HRC discussing the Equality Act, and walked through the Sculpture Garden to visit the National Archives.  I thought it would be reassuring in this era of national catastrophe.  When I last visited you walked up the steps into the front doors and saw the documents in the rotunda.  Now, there is an entrance through the basement and lots of 0ther exhibits. When I saw the very long line through turnstiles to see the documents, I decided to pass.  I have seen them before, but I did purchase a cute t-shirt for Sebastian in the gift shop.

I wandered through the National Gallery of Art, skipping the exhibits of non-American art and relishing my favourites in the Hudson River School (favourites despite James McClendon's accurate theological critique of them).  When I walked through in 1992 with a couple of other Senate Youthers (one from Massachusetts, I remember, but don't remember who the other was), it was my first exhibit to a serious art museum.  I was a Philistine. Today I thought of my 17 year old self and giggled.

The cast of Saint-Gaudens' Robert Gould Shaw Memorial confirms in my mind that it is the greatest of American sculptures--and I've never seen the actual thing in person.

I enjoyed the East Building more than I expected, maybe for the first time finding some connection with the paintings of the mid-twentieth century as we too experience the threat of nihilism.

I admired a Helen Frankenthaler painting I've used in my teaching in my Ethics class (as part of an exercise illustrating an Iris Murdoch essay on The Good) and thrilled to encounter Wassily Kandinsky's Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle).  I've owned a print of that painting since 1996 and it currently hangs in Sebastian's room.  I'd never seen the original.  It is marvelous.

I wanted to see the Grant Memorial again, as I had admired it so in 1990, but much of it was blocked off, so I only skirted the reflecting pool adjacent to it.  I was thrilled that my memory still worked, as I saw a statue ahead and thought, "I think that's Garfield."  It was.

The museums were now closing, so I wandered through the National Garden and then skirted the National Museum of the Native American (I plan to visit it tomorrow, as I've never been) on my way to the L'Enfant Plaza Metro stop.  I noticed a community garden across the street from the Air & Space Museum and enjoyed the juxtaposition.


I returned to my room at the inn and cooled off before Skyping with my family.  The bookshelf in the room included some odd, old texts, including the American Rose Annual 1949 where I learned of Dr. J. Horace McFarland "Rare are the international figures that can compare in world importance to this great American rosarian."  What praise, given that it was the age of Churchill, Gandhi, and Einstein.


After a refreshing shower I had tapas for dinner, including delicious squid.  And now I'm sitting in the lounge of the inn drinking rye whiskey and writing.


You were given permission at your baptism


During an interlude of morning worship the organist played Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Brian McLaren was the preacher and lecturer discussing what people hate about organized religion.  It isn't that they want sloppier religion, its that religion is often organized toward the wrong goals.  It should be organized toward justice and the love of God and working in cooperation with people of goodwill from all faiths and cultures.

McLaren began by confirming that preaching is becoming more challenging, but the larger social factors making it so, are not our fault.  He had a litany, which included the powerful, "It is not your fault that American religion has always had a racist subtext."

He warned us, "The time is way too dangerous to waste a sermon."  

He declared "If you are signing the songs of empire, you are on the wrong side."  We should be singing about our racial problems, about our responsibilities to the environment.  Also praise songs, because "all legitimate praise songs are also protest songs."

If you need permission to be a preacher organizing the church for justice, know that "you were given permission at your baptism."

My favourite practical word he gave, an idea I may work on for next year, is that all churches should organize peace marches on Palm Sunday, which would be a more authentic way of living into the story of Jesus.


In the afternoon Otis Moss III said that if you are doing your job as a preacher, then people will leave the church.  That's simply part of the pain of preaching.  His lecture was entitled "When the Empire Strikes Back."

The preacher should help people to shift their prism and see things from different perspectives.  We may not be able to change everything, but we can at least plant the seeds that may work out in a later generation.

On a practical level he said, "You are creating a sonic mural every time you preach."

The day also included sermons by Lisa Thompson and Yvette Flunder.


After lunch I chose to visit the Alamo for the first time in more than twenty years.  I sat in garden on a bench in front of a fountain in the cool shade cast by the spreading branches of the live oaks.


Preaching on the Borders

The middle of May once again finds me at the Festival of Homiletics with my friends and colleagues David Breckenridge and Dan DeLeon.  This year we are in San Antonio. Here's the event website. We'll join 1,200 other ministers in listening to sermons and lectures on preaching all week!

Last year's event, which I blogged extensively (the first post is here) was focused on Prophetic Preaching with pretty much every presenter pounding home every social justice issue imaginable in the midst of the election.  More than once Trump the candidate was denounced last year.  

So, I'll be curious how this great preachers grapple with preaching the Age of Trump, an issue I continue to wrestle with.  And though the location and theme were picked long before the election, it clearly lends itself to engagement with our national catastrophe.

Clogher Head


The Dingle Peninsula possesses a rugged, spare beauty.  These are not lush valleys with quaint farms.  Instead there are stone buildings on steep hillsides overlooking the ocean and remote islands.  At lunch we overheard a woman, an Irish literature teacher telling a friend visiting from another country about the people who had lived on Great Blasket Island, just off the tip of the peninsula, "They didn't teach kids to swim, because better to die immediately than swim for a few hours or days in the rugged ocean and not be discovered."


Halfway or so along the Slea Head Drive, we stopped at a turn out at Clogher Head to enjoy the view.  A cloudburst kept us in our cars, but we determined to wait it out, as all day the rains, even when heavy, had been short-lived.  We lay back in our seat until the rain stopped and then Kelli and I hopped out to take the 15 minute walk through the mud up to the rocky point.  The wind-beaten rocks were covered with flowering plants, many still in bloom in mid-October, leaving me to wonder how lovely they must have been even a few weeks before.  The view from the point was one of the most beautiful of the trip--cliffs and island and villages and ocean and hills and farms.  And yet . . .

To farm the rough land the Irish had to remove the rocks, which they used to create the walls of the fields.  Then they had carried seaweed up onto the land to let it decompose and create farmable topsoil.  Sitting there I couldn't imagine the work required, but you can see the evidence in the line where green field gives way to rocky, brown hillside.

But from this particular spot you can see the remains of fields that are once again brown and not green.  Walled fields that aren't farmed anymore.  The guidebook said those fields were last planted during the potato famine and never again, as the population declined so precipitously that the people living there, pushed to the remote barren edge of their own island by the colonizers, never recovered sufficiently to require them to plant the highest fields.

So, here in this place of beauty, stark reminders of ethnic cleansing.


Wild Atlantic Way

As we left our beloved Doolin, we headed south along the Wild Atlantic Way, the road that parallels the western coast of Ireland with often stunning views of the sea.  Our first destination was Loop Head, encouraged by Sean the owner of our Doolin B&B.  A lighthouse adorns the head (or what we would call a point), and Mom was eager to visit a lighthouse.

South of Lahinch we entered the small town of Quilty.  Our cabbie a few days before had suggested visiting the church there, dedicated to the victims of a shipwreck.  The region draws attention to shipwrecks, particularly those of the Spanish Armada along its shores.

As we parked to enter the church, the cold wind blew off the ocean.  The small sanctuary dedicated to Mary, Star of the Sea was decorated with simple, but poignant stained glass.

  Quilty church

We continued our drive along this peninsula jutting out into the north Atlantic, with the landscape becoming increasing more spare and the villages taking on a more remote feeling.  However, there was a Trump International golf course.

As we neared Loop Head a sign directed us to another scenic spot, the Bridges of Ross.  We stopped in the car park and watched massive waves pounding the dark, jagged rocks.

Bridges of Ross

Loop Head Lighthouse

We pulled up to the lighthouse only to learn that it was unexpectedly closed.  We weren't the only potential visitors to be disappointed, as cars continued to pull in, empty their passengers who took time to wrap up in coats and scarves before walking to the gate, only to walk disappointingly back to their cars.  However, Kelli and I decided to look around.  

The point sits atop tall cliffs, a barren point surrounded by the cold, violent ocean.  I stood a while alone on this almost westernmost point of Europe, listening to the waves and the wind.

Loop Head Rocks

From Loop Head we drove along the Shannon River estuary to the ferry, a twenty-minute passage across the wide river, passing from County Clare into County Kerry, where the landscape changed dramatically to a multitude of rich greens and quaint cottages adorning picturesque farms.  We drove to Tralee for lunch, walking through their rose garden.


Tralee Rose Garden

Wild Atlantic Way

And then we drove again along the Wild Atlantic Way as we entered the Dingle Peninsula.  We elected not to take the narrow and winding Connor Pass in the slowing fading light (my mom and sister both have histories of motion sickness).  Early evening we arrived in Dingle, in time for only a little browsing and shopping, as the stores were closing.  The next day we'd see more of the wild Atlantic as we drove round the Dingle Peninsula.