Daily Archives: November 2, 2014

Return from Gettysburg: Table Talk and Meeting a Hero

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I am on the way back from Gettysburg following our Staff Ride. As always it was a very interesting trip and as much as I get to expound on what I know, I also get to learn. As the late Hall of Fame Manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Earl Weaver so eloquently put it: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

I love going up, not just for the teaching opportunity, but to spend time with the students, and sometimes their family members over lunch, dinner or drinks at the various watering holes. These occasions of table talk are probably some of the most important parts of learning and relationships. They are something that have become an anomaly in our modern higher education process, which driven by the need for profit, or by austerity in public or military educational systems, or fear of legal liability, have all too often sacrificed this all too important manner of learning.

I remember reading Martin Luther’s Table Talk, which is a collection of writings by his student’s gathered around the table as they ate and drank. They show Luther at his best and worst, expounding on some of his less systematized ideas, as well as his ability to expound on subjects outside of the lecture hall or the theological debate, sometimes while certainly under the influence of good German beer.

This type of learning was common at one time, but now is a dying art. One of the things that it does for me is that my student’s questions, comments, experiences and ideas also spur my thinking and cause me to do more research, discover more and learn more. I then attempt to assimilate what I have learned and then develop those thoughts into things that I am either writing or teaching.

For me this is about a commitment to the truth, as I quoted from Star Trek the Next Generation on Friday, that my first duty, is to the truth, and as one of my students mention to me last night can be painful, especially when long cherished myths, are crushed by the weight of facts. For him it was the ugly truth of the Lost Cause and especially in the role of religion in the South to justify slavery, secession and following the war segregation, discrimination and sometimes even lynching. For him, as it was for me, so many years ago at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, this was difficult. But if truth matters at all, we cannot ignore it as so many do and cling to myth, as Captain Picard said ” be it scientific, historic or personal truth.” 

I was fortunate that my professors at Southwestern, especially my professors of Church History, Systematic Theology and Philosophy of religion challenged me and laid waste to the myths that I believed that I am who I am today.

I think I am going to start doing table talk sessions for any interested students during our next term.

I also had a unique honor on this trip. One of my students brought his dad, a retired Army Colonel and Vietnam veteran. He was a very interesting man and was engaged in the lessons of the trip, even since his son had provided him a copy of my text, asking when I would get it published. He didn’t try to draw attention to himself, we had some nice conversation over dinner and drinks with the rest of the students, and at the end of the Staff Ride, which is at the Solder’s Cemetery he walked up and thanked me. He the said “let me give you my coin.”

For us in the military a being presented a commander’s coin or unit coin is an honor. I have a lot of them, including one from former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, who I met at the Battle of Hue City Memorial weekend when I was the chaplain of the ship that carries the name and legacy of Hue City.

When I looked at the coin it was inscribed “Colonel Walter Marm, Vietnam, 14 November 1965.” In the center a depiction of the Medal of Honor. The front, Congressional Medal of Honor Society, United States of America. Colonel Marm was a platoon leader then, a young lieutenant, in Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Ia Drang. You might recognize it, the battle was chronicled in the book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young” and film We Were Soldiers

If you want to read about his heroism you can google him or go to this site, which is just one of many where you can read about this American hero.

http://www.medalofhonorspeakout.org/bio/walter-marm

Interestingly enough President Obama will award the Medal of Honor posthumously on November 6th to Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing who died defending the Angle on day three at Gettysburg.

So this indeed was a special trip, a reminder to me of the lost art of table talk in education, as well as the heroes who do not draw attention to themselves. Yes my friends, it is what you learn after you know it all that counts.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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All Hallows and All Saints at Gettysburg

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Me on Little Round Top teaching near Gouverneur Warren Monument

Well my friends I have been up in Gettysburg the past two days, actually I drove up with my class for the Staff Ride on Friday. Last night which was Halloween I toured the Jenny Wade House which is according to those that pursue the paranormal is consistently rated one of the haunted spots in the United States, since the house sits not twenty feet from the hotel that I stay each time I come up here, that is fascinating because ever since I was a kid and saw a misty figure in my grandfather’s bedroom where I was sleeping since he was in hospital back in early 1970 I have been fascinated with such things. But I digress…

Anyway, today was a good day out with my students and their families as del walked the battlefield in some very cold and raw weather, yes winter is coming sooner than any one of us want to admit….

Anyway, I always feel a special, almost spiritual connection to those who fought and died at Gettysburg. Walt Whitman wrote in his poem “Ashes of Dead Soldiers”:

Ashes of soldiers South or North, As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves, In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”

After dinner with my student’s at the Farnsworth House I took a few minutes and wandered East Cemetery Hill where the Union forces helped hold back the army of Robert E. Lee. I have been to the hill many times, but never after dark. It was surreal.

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Monument of Oliver Howard at Night

Anyway, I will as always write more about Gettysburg, the battle, campaign and the people but tonight just a thought that sometimes things remain that we cannot explain, As Joshua Chamberlain wrote:

In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

I am one of those people, a member of a generation who knew them not but one who is heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them.  And yes, for me, ever since my first visit to this hallowed ground in the spring of 1997, the shadow of a mighty presence wraps me in its bosom, and the power of their vision passes into my soul.

Today as always I took my class around the battlefield and traced the events of July 1st and 2nd 1863, days when tens of thousands of men were killed, wounded, or captured. This evening I went to dinner with about half of the group, and met for a couple of beers as well as interesting talk with some others after my stroll on the dark Cemetery Hill. Tomorrow I will lead my class to Culp’s Hill, and then back across the battlefield where we will trace the route of Pickett’s division during Pickett’s Charge, before we discuss the High Water Mark of the Confederacy, take a group photo at General George Meade’s headquarters behind Cemetery Ridge and going on to the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address.

I am going to try to get some rest since we “fall back” in a couple of hours. It would be nice to sleep. However, since my sleep so resembles what Gouverneur Warren described in 1867. Warren recounted in a letter to his wife:

“I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

Have a nice night and a better tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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