Author Archives: theflamingheretic

Craig D. Atwood is the John Comenius Visiting Professor of Moravian Studies. This position is named for the Moravian bishop and theologian John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), who is known today as “the father of modern education.” Comenius was an active public figure who drew upon his faith to confront the injustices and cruelties of his age. He explored creative ways to educate the public about God, the world, and human responsibility, and many of his writings remain classics. The position of Comenius Professor is a joint effort of the Divinity School and Home Moravian Church.

Atwood teaches history of theology, history of Christology, Moravian history and theology, and has guided student projects in spiritual autobiography and Credo. In the area of public theology, he tries to bring the resources of the Divinity School to the wider public. This includes making the public aware of special lectures and programs at the Divinity School and working with the local community in organizing public theology events. Atwood also serves as Theologian in Residence at Home Moravian Church, and his weekly Adult Bible Class is broadcast live on WSJS radio, am 600 on Sunday mornings.

Prior to coming to Wake Forest, Atwood was the Clarkson S. Starbuck Assistant Professor of Religion at Salem College where he also served as chaplain. In addition, he served as a pastor in Philadelphia and was Assistant Dean of Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pa. He has received the David Bishop Award for academic excellence from Moravian Seminary and the Dale Brown Award for excellence in scholarship from the Young Center for Pietist and Anabaptist Studies. He is an ordained minister in the Moravian Church.

Atwood is the author of the award-winning Community of the Cross: Moravian Piety in Colonial Bethlehem and the editor of the 11th and 12th editions of Handbook of Denominations in the United States, one of the most widely-used reference books on American religion. He has published several articles on various aspects of German Pietism and edited a volume of Nicholas von Zinzendorf’s sermons. He has also held leadership positions in national and regional academic organizations and is editor of The Hinge: A Journal of Christian Thought for the Moravian Church. In addition, Atwood often speaks to church and civic organizations.

Paris – Day 5 Pere Lachaise, Catacombs

Day 5 – Thursday

Today was our Day of the Dead. We slept late and then took the Metro to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery to visit the graves of some of our favorite people and celebrities. The cemetery is an enormous walled city of tombs. There are so many different styles, from simple flat stones covering the whole grave to enormous edifices. Nearly every available space is covered in some kind of stone marker or mausoleum. It was the first day we had any sunshine, and the birds were singing, which was a welcome relief after all of the sirens on the Rue St Jacques where we are staying. I imagine that the cemetery is creepy at night with all of the different sized tombs casting shadows, but today it was beautiful. There are many newer burials. Most of the time the remains are removed after 20 years to make way for new burials. Many of the tombs were family tombs. We bought a map, which was wise, and Julie led us straight to the tomb of Heloise and Abelard. This is what I came to see. They were two of the best theologians in the history of Christianity, although only Abelard was recognized as such. I studied him in graduate school, and I always include him in my lectures in the Christian Tradition class. Such a tragic and beautiful life. The best part of his life was Heloise who loved him with intense passion even after he was emasculated by her uncle and guardian. At one point Heloise and her nuns were evicted from their cloister and Abelard gave his home to them. He ended his wandering at the Cluny Monastery where Peter the Venerable, perhaps the most humane man of the Middle Ages, gave him shelter and let him teach the young monks. When Abelard died, Peter the Venerable sent his body to Heloise. When she died, the nuns broke tradition and buried her with him. They’ve been moved a couple of times and now lie under a beautiful faux gothic chapel. After that we found the grave of my favorite 19th century illustrator, Gustave Dore, and went on a quest to find my daughter’s favorite artist Modigliani. Of course we stopped by Jim Morrison (of the Doors), Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Bizet, and Serat. I was surprised by the monuments to victims of the holocaust that were not mentioned in the guidebook or marked on the map. Very moving. I was also surprised by how beautiful the crematorium in the center of the cemetery is.

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We had a nice Panini near the cemetery and then took the Metro to the catacombs of Paris. There has been a rail strike in Paris this week, and it just happened that the square near the catacombs was the scene of a major labor rally. At first we thought it was some kind of street fair since there were several carts serving street food (smelled great) and beverages. There was music everywhere and a festival vibe, but there were clearly angry political speeches and people with protest signs. We figured out it was connected to the strike. The good news for us is that the line was very short at the catacombs. We had tried to go on Tuesday and it was a nightmare, but today was only a ten minute wait. The catacombs are not all like those in Italy. Those catacombs were dug in the limestone for the expressed purpose of burial, and the newer graves are in the lowest sections. The catacombs of Paris were actually tunnels dug by the government in the 19th century to manage the foundations of the growing city of Paris after some buildings had collapses. There are miles and miles of carefully crafted tunnels throughout the city. But what makes them famous is that the government decided that the city’s cemeteries had become a health hazard. About 150 cemeteries and charnel houses were emptied and the bones carefully placed in the catacombs. Ancient, brown femurs stacked like cord wood with a row of skulls, and then other bones. At times both sides of the tunnel are nothing but human remains and various inscriptions from the Bible and other ancient literature reminding us to remember our own mortality. Macabre, yes, but also deeply moving as you look on the last remains of thousands of Parisians and remember that they once lived, labored, and loved just as we do. Each bone was carefully placed in these catacombs by people born generations after the owner had died, and we today walk along the paths of the dead. The stairs leading up into the land of the living were steep, narrow, and circular, which also was a reminder of how hard it is to make it through this thing called life. It was with joy that we felt the cool breeze on our faces, happy to be alive.

We took the train to the Luxembourg Gardens where Cosette and Marius fell in love in Les Miserables (when he thought her named was Ursula) and refreshed ourselves with an ice cream rosette of seven flavors. Then into the Pantheon, which was to have been the church of St Genevieve. It is a beautiful building in its own right, with a fabulous dome under which Foucault’s famous pendulum swings to prove that the world rotates. We visited the crypt where rest the bones of some other heroes – especially Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, and Madame Curie. After honoring the dead and remembering the great things they did for the human race, we wandered past the Sorbonne and enjoyed fondue. That’s just cheese and bread, my friend.

Paris – Day Four

Day 4 – Wednesday – The Louvre

Craig.Assyrian.winged horse.Louvre

Today was the Louvre. This was the only thing we pre-planned and bought tickets for, and so it was the only thing we had to make sure we set an alarm for. We had a hearty breakfast, navigated the metro, and got to the Louvre pyramid early. It was not very crowded, and we did not have to wait in line at all. Like everyone, we headed straight to the Winged Victory and Mona Lisa (La Jaconda). I really expected I would be disappointed by them, but I wasn’t. The crowds were too big to fully appreciate them, but they are lovely works of art. I’ve seen so many bad, comical, and ironic versions of Mona Lisa that it was refreshing to see the original by Leonardo. People say it is small, which is true compared to the massive paintings all around, but it is appropriate for a portrait. She really is beautiful, and I can see why people have loved her for centuries. The Louvre is a wonderful museum, and we spent much of our time in the Italian Renaissance. After we had sensory overload from beautiful (and some lesser) paintings, we made our way to the antiquities section. Somehow in my life I always wind up in Egypt and Babylon. It was fun seeing things from the palaces of Sargon II and Darius I, whom I read about in seminary. A highlight was the unrolled scroll of the Book of the Dead, but all in all, I think I enjoyed the Cluny Museum most. Nothing equals the unicorn tapestries and the Limoges enamels (blue). We were completely exhausted after several hours in the Louvre navigate all of the stairs, and so after a rest we went out for a fabulous dinner at a bistro near the hotel. We started with escargot. Yes, I can check that off the list. I like mollusks. Julie had duck and I had beef with the best au poivre.

Paris – Day 3

Day 3 – Tuesday

Every long trip has one bad day. That’s why you go for week instead of two days. We meant to get up early to go to the catacombs, but did not think to get advanced tickets. And we severely overslept and my back was killing me. I tried my yoga stretches, which got me functioning, but still I was not the happiest man in Paris. A little breakfast at a local restaurant and then a long subway ride to the station near the catacombs. And then a long walk trying to find the end of the queue. In the cold. With a backache. After 45 minutes we had not even moved halfway up the queue, and so it was time to bail. Back on the subway to the hotel. How do we rescue the day? Time to go inside one of the greatest buildings in the world. Notre Dame Cathedral is so iconic that it is easy to forget how amazing it is. I still think the York Minster is just plain out more beautiful and spectacular, but I’ve never been in a more stately and magnificent house of worship. It was one of the first truly gothic cathedrals, and you can almost feel the weight of the stones soaring over your head. The windows live up to their reputation, especially the rose windows. It was disappointing that you cannot go into the upper level like you can at St Paul’s and other churches, but the main level is beautiful. An unexpected treat was finding a monument to Cardinal Noailles, the primate of France who was Zinzendorf’s friend. Yes, I can relate everything in the world to the Moravians! Unfortunately when we left Notre Dame we went to visit a very disappointing archeological dig, and there at the entrance, a young female pickpocket made off with some of our cash. Despite our diligence. Thankfully it was only cash, and not that much.

We thought we would wander around the Cite for a bit and maybe have a coffee, but suddenly the weather changed as if it to match our mood. Driving rain and sleet. Yes, sleet in April in Paris. With a crowd of tourists we dashed into a café, and thankfully there was a table available. Not coffee, this time. When the storm passed, we found Sainte Chappelle, and what had been a bad day became an extraordinary day. It was the chapel built by King Louis IX in the 13th century as a free-standing small gothic church in the middle of the palace. It is literally surrounded by the Palace of Justice today. The main floor is surrounded by the most beautiful stained glass I’ve ever seen. Hundreds of biblical scenes depicted in blue, green, and red glass. It reaches so high you cannot begin to guess what the figures are. The sun came out while were there and it was like standing in the middle of a gemstone. The rose window in the back depicts the apocalypse of John, but it is the least violent apocalypse I’ve seen. And the vaulted blue roof with fleur de lies is stunning. I know that this was built by kings who exploited the people, but they certainly had style. I’m so happy that friends strongly recommended visiting this site.

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After a much needed rest, we walked up to the Pantheon, which had just closed, and had a lovely meal at the Comptoir du Pantheon. It was so nice to be in a place frequented by students and scholars. Three people had their Macs open and were drinking coffee. I felt right at home. Our waiter was the friendliest person I’ve met in France, who was very understanding of two Americans. We decided to splurge after our rough day and shared a bottle of an excellent eco-friendly Rhone wine followed by the best braised pork chops with mushrooms I’ve ever eaten. Julie had a very tender leg of lamb, and I do believe that some duck liver was consumed as well. We walked around the Latin Quarter a bit, and visited a church named St Etienne du Mont. More famous was St Genevieve who had an abbey there. She helped convert Clovis the first king of the Franks, and he built her abbey. Her body lay there as a sacred relic until the Revolution when her remains were burned and through into the river. The Pantheon was originally built in her honor, but the revolutionaries took it over and made it a monument to intellectuals.

While wandering around the Latin Quarter, I was overwhelmed by the thought of all of the great thinkers who had studied or taught at the University of Paris. Peter Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, John Calvin, and the list goes on. Is there any city like Paris? Rome is older and was the great city of antiquity. I love Rome. Florence is the great Renaissance city. Venice is beautiful. London is both ancient and modern and was briefly the center of the entire world. But Paris is unique, at least in the West. It is the city of scholars and artists, architects and artisans, dreamers and doers. It is a beautiful city that set the standards for Western culture for hundreds of years. What other city has seen the birth of universities and the revolutions that defined modern politics? The city of Robespierre and Madame Curie. There has been no century since the early Middle Ages when Paris was not important. Is it any wonder that so many American writers and artists were drawn to this Mecca of culture? I’m so glad we came.

Paris – Day 2

2016-04-25 21.26.04Day 2 – Monday

Our only planned activity for the trip was tickets to the Louvre on Wednesday. Monday began with a ham and cheese crepe from a friendly creperie near us. Love the coffee here. Most museums close on Tuesday, so we spent the first part of Monday in the Cluny Museum of medieval art and culture. It is housed in a building that served as the “hotel” or townhouse of the abbots of Cluny in the 17th century on the site of an ancient Roman bathhouse. In the late 19th century it was converted into a museum, and among the treasures are the tapestries of a woman and a unicorn. They are similar to the unicorn tapestries at the Cloisters, which I love, but these are in vermillion and the artwork is astounding. 15th century weaving. Flanders, I think. There were also lots of reliquaries, including one built to hold the supposed umbilical cord of Jesus. Of course Mary would have put that away in case someone wanted to adore it centuries later! Many of the medieval statues, especially of the crucifixion were done in a very precise and naturalistic style, which makes me wonder why people claim that was invented in the Italian Renaissance. But I’m not an art historian.

 

The weather continued to worsen, but we had tickets for dinner on the river and were not going to miss it. We decided to head out early to see the Eifel Tower. We mastered the Metro, but took a wrong turn coming out of the station. We were happily walking along wandering why we didn’t see a large iron edifice in front of us. Being very cautious about pickpockets, salesman, and other dangers of the streets, we walked past some men telling us we had to wait for a minute. Finally we realized that they were filming a movie and needed to clear the sidewalk for a shot. So, with some embarrassment, we paused, let them film, and proceeded to stride purposefully in the wrong direction. We turned around and saw the tower, right where Gustave Eifel had put it. Too embarrassed to go back through the movie site, we crossed the road to walk along the Seine. Despite the cold and rain, it is as beautiful as the movies depict it. The line to go up the tower was so short, we took the plunge and traveled to the top. The wind was bitter and the rain cut into our faces, but the view was extraordinary. Even though the horizon was shrouded in mist, it was amazing to look down on Notre Dame the rest of Paris. The tower is a marvel. I have always loved it in pictures, but the reality is nearly impossible to describe. Tons of steel held together by rivets, and yet the whole thing looks as if it were made of lace. It did not even sway in the wind, it is so stable. I deeply admire Eifel for having had such a vision of quixotic beauty and materialize it on earth. Originally it served no real purpose and it was to be torn down, but now it is a symbol of beauty and strength for all the world to see.

 

We were nearly frozen when we got off the elevator and immediately sought out some cappuccino. And then we walked in the rain to find the boat Paris en Scene. It had not returned from its earlier trip and we managed to walk right past the docking place. Using Google maps and wandering too and fro, we determined where the place should be, and then we saw the boat coming down the river. While we were waiting to board, Julie saw a sign that was clearly visible from the car park, but which we could not see from the bank where we were strolling. The boat was lovely and we shared a brut of champagne to celebrate tenure. We had delicious pate with salad followed by a main course of the best salmon I’ve had in years. Desert was also nice, especially the very dark chocolate ganache. It was so nice to float down the Seine, looking out of the windows even though the rain obscured the view somewhat. We decided to buy a picture of us enjoying the evening. On the return trip the Eifel Tower lit up with a dazzling display. We made our way back to the hotel via the Metro. On the train we helped an Argentinian couple get off of the right stop. That was a comedy of three languages and much pointing! For some reason, jet lag hit us the second night and we were both awake very late. We skyped the children to make sure they were safe and tried unsuccessfully to sleep.

 

Paris 2016 – Day 1

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My wife and I are on the trip of a lifetime. She turned 50 last week, and I wanted to give her something special. And we between us we had 120,000 frequent flyer miles on US Airways that were going to expire at the end of 2016, so last fall we committed to this trip. It part of my sabbatical from teaching. Julie will fly home on Monday and I will go on to the University of Heidelberg. Here is the day to day activities, if you are interested.

We arrived at the Orly airport about 9:30 a.m. on Sunday April 24 after a rather uncomfortable flight on British Airways. Just before boarding the plane I finally learned that the Trustees had indeed promoted me to full professor and awarded tenure. That was a huge relief, and this trip is in part celebration. We took a taxi (cheaper than expected) straight to the hotel and our room was ready in a few minutes. It was the Hotel Mercure Notre Dame-Sorbonne, just a block from the Cluny medieval museum. It was a tiny room with no dresser, so we are living out of our suitcases. There is barely room to turn around in the shower, but other than that it is clean and pleasant. We can see the top of the Pantheon from our window. We are in the heart of the Latin Quarter, which got its name because students at the University of Paris had to speak Latin in the old days. It is still a university neighborhood. We took a nap since we had almost no sleep the night before. And then we went for a walk that took us to Notre Dame Cathedral. The weather is unseasonably cold and wet. We packed raincoats, but I wish I had packed the winter lining. The two sweaters I brought are getting lots of wear. Since we are here for a week we decided to take it very easy our first day and just walk around the neighborhood. Since we had not eaten since the flight, we had an early dinner at French restaurant with an alpine theme. Beef bourguignon for me and duck orange for Julie. We both got the French onion soup which is just called onion soup here. Mine food was good, but I preferred Le Bonne Soupe in NY. The house wine was very good – Gamay. The most amusing part of the evening was looking up to see a large moose head overlooking Julie. I wasn’t sure if we were in France or Canada. Julie booked tickets for us for a dinner cruise on the Seine for Monday night. We Skyped the girls, turned in early, and slept till after eleven the next day.

Trip to Cuba

I just returned from a wonderful seven days in Cuba, but it was very hard to get internet access while I was there. So I each day I typed up my blog posts about the trip and saved them on my computer. This morning I uploaded several days of the blog. If you want to read the whole story of the trip you have to go back several days.

It took many people to make this trip possible, and I want to thank them beginning with my wife Julie who was a single parent for more than a week, and who somehow managed to stay in contact with me despite all of the problems. And who had to drive to Philly last night to pick me up because I missed the flight to ABE.

Bishop Sam Gray was my guide, translator, organizer, confidant, and companion. If you ever get the chance to travel with Sam Gray, do so! Thanks to Sam I saw a Cuba that tourists rarely even glimpse.

Angelica Regalado, a Moravian from Peru, translated over 200 PowerPoint slides into Spanish, which made teaching so much easier.

Armando Rusindo is the patriarch of the Moravian Church in Cuba and worked very hard to make sure that all transportation was taken care of and that the classes were a great success.

There were Moravians in Camaguey that arranged for the facilities and meals, which was all perfect.

The casas we stayed out were managed by the nicest women who supplied morning coffee and much cheerfulness.

The students I taught was fantastic.

Thanks to the Joe Gray foundation for paying for much of the event, to the Aldridge Fund, and Board of World Mission for paying for the rest.

Frank Crouch, the dean of Moravian Theological Seminary, let me take a sabbatical, and I am very grateful.

And a special word of thanks to whoever it was centuries ago who discovered that the application of hot water to ground up beans produces the elixir of vitality that we call coffee.

Home to a wind chill of 4 degrees– Jan. 19

All went well getting through customs and passport control in Cuba, but the flight arriving from Miami was 2 hours late, which meant that our departure was two hours late. We landed at 4:30 p.m. and my flight to Charlotte was at 5:20. Our gate was also a long way from customs and immigration. I practically ran off the plane, but then had to take the skytrain to customs. So the running did me no good. I sailed through customs thanks to Global Entry. I had my electronic boarding pass and TSA precheck, but I got held up in security because of a bottle of liquid I bought in duty free. It had to be checked and the person was very slow in doing so. I finally told him to keep it and give me my bag. I had to race to concourse E from D. By now I’m am sweating. I finally get to my gate at 5:14 p.m. and they had closed the doors at 5:10. All that effort wasted! I could have waited at security and kept the bottle of Havana Club after all.

The nice ticket agent put me on stand-by to Philadelphia and I have no checked bags, but another long walk to the other gate. My shirt was soaked, but thankfully I had a clean one in my bag. And a flannel shirt to wear over it. I panicked after changing when I couldn’t find my credit card and quite a bit of cash and called my wife to ask her to report the card stolen, which she was kind enough to do. When I later pulled out my jacket, I found it in a pocket, but I can’t remember putting it there. Whew. The plane to Philly was full, but I was first on the waitlist and then second because of a priority passenger. If I couldn’t get on I would have to spend the night in Miami, but finally they called my name. A wave of relief rushed over me, and I texted Julie with the bad news that she would have to drive to Philadelphia to pick me up at 10 p.m. and the good news that I would be coming home.

I felt so bad for her because she is sick with a cold and had been taking care of two other sick people all weekend. And the weather in Pennsylvania is cold. The wind chill when she came to get me was four degrees (temp 16). She was kind enough to bring along a coat and hat for me, but I had to wait for her outside with just my flannel shirt and a sports coat on. Freezing and very hungry. It was so good to see her after ten days. A quick drive through a Wendy’s for a burger and root beer convinced me that I was truly back in the USA. And then home to the children! It is so good to be home. It is so good to have a family that is willing to let me run off for an adventure like this.

And now it’s time to get back to the daily problems of life: car repairs, mortgages, balancing the check book, cat litter, laundry, and all the tasks of modern living. It was wonderful to take a hot shower this morning even if I did have to go out in the freezing cold to take my daughter to school. Even that is a blessing.

It was so nice to spend a short time at least in country where there are still horse drawn taxis, no billboards, and where I did not even have TV. I met some very memorable characters on this trip and many helpful people along the way. I feel like I was privileged to see a unique country on the cusp of radical transformation. Some of the change will be good, but some beautiful things will be lost in the process.

Heading home– Jan. 17

Last night we had a good internet connection and I had a long email from my wife telling me about the trip she and my daughter made to Manhattan to see Hamilton on Broadway. Madeleine became obsessed with the music of Hamilton months ago and Julie read the biography it is based on. It is an amazing production, but I just find it hard to listen to rap music, even when it is sophisticated lyrically and historically accurate. They had a great time, which is good to hear. I was also able to get a boarding pass for my US flights. I could not print them, but I should be able to get them on my phone in Miami. That is a relief. Three flights today, which multiples the things that can go wrong. I’m hoping customs in Miami is quick since I have Global Entry. I signed up for that last year and it makes international travel much more pleasant.

We didn’t shop in the tourist zone in Havana, and I haven’t seen many shops elsewhere. So I haven’t bought things for the family yet. We’ve got two hours at the airport, so I’ll shop there. Perhaps a Che shirt for Sarah. A Cuban flag for Madeleine. A soccer shirt for Creed. Havana Club for Julie and me. And maybe some cigars although I don’t smoke at home. The smell bothers the family. I have some gifts from Austin, too. I had thought Austin would be my exciting trip this year, but then the opportunity came to go to Cuba. Now it is hard to remember what I did just nine days ago.

I will be taking back over a hundred pictures that do not begin to communicate the reality of this experience, but they help me remember what happened. How do you tell people what it means when two people who cannot speak the language of the other look at each other and speak with their eyes. I have rarely felt such a deep connection with other people or seen students’ eyes well with tears as we talk about theology, history, and serving others. Yes, I enjoyed the food, the rum, the cigars, and the scenery, but it was the people who made this trip special.

At first it was the Americans, Thomas, Riddick, and Sam, who love to joke. Then it was pastors Obed and Armando who have been through so much and yet still love to laugh and tease. Most of all it was the men and women in the seminar at Camaguey. I never even learned all of their names, but the images are etched in my mind. Pastors talking about life under a regime that was hostile to religion and is now helping the church. Aldo and his wife who have a house church and provide food in a very poor neighborhood. The four women joyfully playing on the swing set because Zinzendorf said we should be like children The man building a church with his own hands. Saint Theresa whose every smile is a sermon. The woman who will soon be joining her husband in Ecuador and is now leading worship beautifully. The pastor who began class sitting in the corner with arms folded, but who ended with warm hugs. And then to end it all with the worship in Havana was wonderful.

Some of the people in Havana had taken the seminar with Riddick the week before I arrived, so they did not know me. They had learned much from Riddick and took their study of the Moravians seriously. They showed me kindness and respect, but after worship they showed me love. They were so happy that I danced with them in my own very unique style and could still discuss Scripture. At lunch Tanya kept talking about the worship and how Armando has bridged so many forms of Christian expression.

The American flag was taken down from the embassy in Cuba the year before I was born. The Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis were when I was a child. I grew up hearing about Cuban troops fighting in Angola, and the American naval base in Guantanamo Bay. I would watch the Olympics and hear the commentators being upset when Cuban boxers beat Americans and won medals. When flying to other countries we flew around Cuba. I have heard the anger over Cuba in American politics. I saw the pictures of the young boy Elian being returned to his father and how hard other people tried to keep him in the US. In my lifetime Cuba has been a closed land and I was told that the Cubans are my enemies. I heard how much Cubans suffer from the embargo and from communism.

Things are changing now, and I think the change will be rapid as Americans meet Cubans. Yes, Cubans have to been innovative because of the embargo. Yes, there were places where the toilets did not work and there were no napkins. There is little trash in Cuba because people have to reuse so many things. I’ve been impressed even though I miss some of the minor luxuries of life in America. There is so much that is beautiful here, what does it matter if I don’t have a napkin?

The most important thing on this trip is that I found brothers and sisters in Cuba. I hope to return. As eager as I am to be home, it is hard to leave. Let governments be enemies if they choose, but leave me out. I am seeking friends and companions with whom I can do a small part to heal the world.

The Reverend Doctor Dances – Jan. 17

Today was our last full day in Cuba. I woke to the sound of torrential rains lashing the windows and winds hurling limbs and trees through the air. El Nino is raging this winter. Havana has had severe storms for over a week now. We had beautiful weather in the east, but each day here has had weather challenges. When Sam left to gather breakfast from a local buffet the skies were blue, but the storm hit while he was at the hotel and he was stuck for an hour. Thankfully the rain stopped in time for church, but attendance was much lower than expected. We had about 20 in the new Moravian Church, which is in a converted house. They have only been worshiping there since November, and the interior is beautiful.

Armando is the pastor and he spends hours writing the liturgy and preparing the music, most of which is recorded and shown on a screen. The pictures that accompany the music are often very moving. He started with a Spanish recording of Ode to Joy that was very moving. I often think that it may be the single best piece of music ever written. From there we moved to more contemporary praise music. Sam sang one of his original compositions. Armando even had one song in English called If Jesus Say Yes Nobody Can Say No and he taught the congregation to sing the chorus. They were clapping to it and he started dancing, so I started dancing too. The congregation was very surprised that a professor was dancing so vigorously if not very gracefully. I don’t normally work up a sweat during the singing in church. Near the end of the service – after more than an hour of music – I preached a brief sermon from Colossians 3, especially the verse “Clothe yourselves with compassion.” At one point I got choked up, but otherwise it went well. People seemed engaged with it. It was one of the best worship services I’ve participated in.

One of the members of the church wrote his dissertation on Comenius and is translating it into English. Another is a bus driver who helped change our bus tickets so we didn’t have to take the night bus to Havana. The most remarkable person was an elderly woman who was both an accomplished artist and an art teacher. Some of her students are the most celebrated artists in the Caribbean with works in many museums. On my next visit I want to visit her and see her paintings.

They fed us one of the best meals I’ve in Cuba, which provided enough leftovers for our dinner tonight. After a long afternoon nap, we went back to the hotel to sit by the pool and smoke our cigars. They have a large beautiful pool and I swam about 30 laps even though the water and the air were cool. Not many people were crazy enough to swim so I had the pool to myself. It was good to stretch out and wash away the cares of the week. I am no better at swimming than I am at dancing, but it gives me quiet time to think.

After my swim we sat under a cloudy night sky and discussed so many issues in the Moravian Church. Sam informed me of the details of things that I knew only in passing, and I learned more than two sides of different controversies. We talked mostly about the future and what can happen if the Moravian Church is willing.

Old Habana – Jan. 16

Saturday was our day off from teaching and travel. It is nice here at the Casa Alejandra and the senora is so sweet. She gives us coffee each morning. In the morning we went to the breakfast buffet at the Coppacabana, which was less expensive than breakfast at most diners in the US. The casa we are staying at is much less expensive than a hotel, but it is just a few blocks from “embassy row” and the wealthiest part of Havana. We walked past the Russian embassy, which is a monstrous concrete edifice with a strange top that houses communications equipment. It is a grim reminder of the Cold War.

After omelets, guava, and bread, we returned to the casa. Alejandra had polished by shoes and left them by the door without my asking. It was good because they were in sad shape from days of walking on dusty roads. Then I worked on my sermon for Sunday so Sam would have plenty of time to translate it. The sun came out and it was suddenly very hot and humid, so I changed into tourist shorts and a T-shirt that identified me as someone who had been to the beach in North Carolina. We walked to the main road and hailed a cab. It was a 1956 Bel Air and it already had three passengers, but there was room for two more in the back seat.

We headed straight for the capitol, which is modeled on the US capitol. On the way we passed the American embassy and saw the flag. The same three Marines who took it down in 1959 raised it when the embassy was reopened last year. At the square across from the capitol there was a line of old cars for hire for an hour, including a beautiful red Thunderbird. It was tempting to rent a convertible, but the weather had changed again. It was overcast and cool, with rain threatening. We walked quickly through the tourist streets of Old Havana, past all of the usual shops, past all of the usual hawkers and gawkers. It was so different from Camaguey. Old Havana is beautiful, if crumbling. We saw an ancient fort that now houses the police, but we have not seen many police. Certainly less than other countries I’ve visited where police carry automatic weapons. From a distance we saw the stature of Jesus overlooking Havana harbor, and it was touching to think that this was not removed early in the revolution, the way Stalin tried to erase the church.

We ate in the Hotel Florida just because it was so beautiful inside with a marble courtyard. A pianist was playing old standards like As Time Goes By quite well despite a piano whose days are clearly numbered. Cuban pork steak, rice and beans, and then a quick detour to see the house where Victor Hugo lived. I needed a picture for my daughter who is a huge fan of Hugo, thanks to Les Miserables. The plaque on the wall commemorated Hugo’s commitment to the right of people in Cuba to govern their own affairs.

The best part of the afternoon was spent at the Hotel Nacionale. This is the place where celebrities and world leaders have stayed for decades. They have pictures of the famous people like Nat King Cole, Gary Cooper, Yuri Gagaren, and even Vladimir Putin. Surprisingly one of the biggest pictures was of the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church. We sat on the veranda overlooking the sea, sipping drinks, and smoking cigars. Key West Florida was just over the horizon. It started to drizzle so moved under a tree and we were the only ones there. Then it came down harder and we retreated to the pleasure palace of the rich and famous and powerful.

We went down to the cigar store and there was a 68 year old woman who has been rolling cigars by hand since she was 19. She showed a picture of her younger self in the Romeo y Juliet factory. She was so pleased that I was interested in her work that she showed us the whole process of making a cigar, and she talked about her life. She used to live in a cold shack in the tobacco fields and then got a job in the factory. They went to using machines, but the machines could not be repaired, so they went back to better way. Machines do not have a feel for the tobacco, she said, as she carefully removed imperfections and blended the light and dark leaves. She joked about Winston Churchill’s very long cigars, which may have been compensating for other things. We laughed that the ones I bought were so short. She and Sam talked at length in Spanish, some of which he did not translate, but the gist of it was that he and I looked like we were truly happy people. We left with two of her cigars for each of us. They were the least expensive we had purchased and that evening we discovered they were also the best. Were they truly better or was it just the knowledge that they were made by a beautiful women whose wrinkled face brightens when she laughs, kissed me when I left and told me that I happy?

In the evening we went to a beautiful hotel near the casa. It was where Sam and other Moravians used to stay in Havana, but the prices have more than doubled and we could not afford so many nights there. It is lovely, but we would not have had Alejandro greeting us each morning with coffee and warning us about the pickpockets. We managed to read emails but not much else. I had a long email from my wife who I very much miss. We had a small bottle of Havana Club, glasses, and the new cigars. We sat by the pool under the palm trees. The clouds were gone and the stars were bright overhead. Orion was rising. The sky was such a dark midnight blue that the red stars were clearly red instead of the pale shades I’m accustomed to. There was a large group of Belgian tourists who had just arrived late the night before. For some reason they were fascinated by Sam and I as they walked past. Several commented in French with smiles about us lying there smoking. An older couple walked past and I said Bon soir, which confused them since they thought we were with their group. But they knew English and we talked for some time about their plans and Cuba. Such lovely people. Such a beautiful night. Such a wonder to be alive and get to experience all of this.

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