Saturday, January 29, 2011


Have you ever been to Auschwitz?

I have. Multiple times. Next time I’m back in Poland, I’m going again, Lord willing, to remember and imagine and pray again.

I like to think I’m an OK writer, at least in terms of telling a story & capturing a slice of history. But I’ve tried for more than 10 years to capture my thoughts about Auschwitz. But the magnitude & horror of the place and of what happened there just absolutely buries me. Sometimes there just aren’t enough words.

Imagine with me a place developed for one purpose: to kill a large number of people in a very cost efficient manner. It’s very hard to imagine until one actually walks into the place.

One estimate is that roughly half of the Jews who died during the Holocaust died at Auschwitz.

Another estimate is that approximately 80% of those who got off of the box cars @ Auschwitz died in the gas chambers. Most of those got off the train and walked directly to the “dressing rooms” where they surrendered their clothes & valuables, and then walked into the “showers” in the basement from which they never walked out.

To be sure, it wasn’t only Jews who died at in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. But it was, by a long way, mostly Jews.

Auschwitz (“Osweciem” in Polish) is a small town out in the *beautiful* countryside of southern Poland, not far from Krakow. The train tracks just outside the big camp (Birkenau) merge from multiple directions. They keep merging until there’s just the one going in under the infamous gate. (There’s a very chilling depiction of a train’s arrival in Auschwitz in the movie Schindler’s List; that scene was filmed on location there at the Birkenau camp.)

There are no tracks coming out the other end of Auschwitz.

It was not on the way to anywhere. The deadly phrase “The Final Solution” comes VIVIDLY to mind there.

One is struck by how very little conversation there is when standing there on the sandy area where the trains unloaded. The same is true back by the ruins of the showers & ovens.

The museum has a huge pile of suitcases…and another huge pile of canes & prosthetic limbs…and another pile of human hair…and another pile of shoes. The elderly & the handicapped didn't last very long there. In the middle of the pile of shoes is a pair of pink little girls’ shoes that sort of stand out. Little girls didn’t last very long there either.

Over behind where the fields of barracks were is a meadow where groups would sit waiting their turn down in the gas chambers. Nearby is a lake where many of the ashes were dumped after the ovens did their work. It is said that one can run one’s hand through the lake today and the hand will come up with ash & bone fragments.

One cannot fathom the size of the place. Nor the size of the ruins of the ovens & gas chambers. Picture a towering industrial factory. There were three of those, with other smaller ones around. We walked down into one of the “overflow” shower facilities. Talk about not enough words!

There are small candles & flowers left there by survivors & relatives & those just seeking to honor the memory of the dead.

I fear that one day the flowers & candles will not be placed there any more. And I fear that day will come sooner than we might think.

Despite how we think of it (or don’t), it's not ancient history. Just 15 short years before I was born, the showers & ovens of Auschwitz were in full operation. I’ll come back to the “not-ancient-history” part of the Holocaust.

Once again: the Birkenau camp at Auschwitz was developed solely for the purpose of killing large numbers of people in a timely cost-efficient manner.

And yet, as overwhelmingly vivid & horrifying as Auschwitz is to me, and as deeply as it cuts me & challenges me to the depths of my soul…I went there for the first time in 1998, more than 50 years after Birkenau was emptied & the ovens & chimneys went silent.

There are still some alive today who didn’t drive up to the front gate, nor did they casually walk in & look around. They rolled into Birkenau in crowded boxcars & were met by shouts & whips & dogs & shoves. They went to the barber & to the shower where their valuables were stolen by the guards & trustees. Then they went to barracks as their parents, spouses, children, & friends went down into the deadly basements.

Thursday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. To those I’ve just mentioned, every day is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Is there ever a day on which they don’t remember?

To the rest of us, every day should be Holocaust Day. Even those of us who were not yet born then when the showers & ovens were operational. Perhaps especially those of us who were not yet born then.

You see, there are other similarly voices today calling for the end of the Jewish people and of the nation of Israel. Right now. Today.

There are still other voices today calling for the end of the American people and of the nation of the United States of America. Right now. Today.

Both sets of voices are from political leaders with large followings who have demonstrated the ability and willingness to kill large numbers of people efficiently.

Have you ever been to Auschwitz?

You should go.

May we never go.

Holocaust Remembrance Day. Do you remember?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

How They Linger...

Precious memories...

Lisa & I went to hang w/ my brother & his wife & daughter this weekend. Had a total blast! But that's not what this entry is about. (well, except that we added to our list of precious memories...)

Unseen angels sent from somewhere to my soul...

It was what Highway 80 does every time I drive it. More precisely, what the places along Highway 80 do to me every time I pass them.

How they linger ever near me...

First, there's the the beautiful land along this road through central Alabama. Over & against the land's God-given beauty are the multiple homesites now rotting. Stu Webber, a writer who has had a huge impact on my life & walk with Christ--and who every male needs to read!--describes such abandoned, falling down places as the ruins of a lost mini-civilization. Since reading that description, I always try to imagine those homesites when they were occupied...

And the sacred scenes unfold...

Then one drives right through Selma, AL. A historical city, mostly for the horror of what happened on the Edmund Pettis bridge back in the 60s. (We drove across that bridge just today). But Selma resonates with me for a different reason. Just off of 80 as one comes into town is a collection of old, small houses. One of those houses was the last earthly address of two simple country folks, in the absolute highest & best & most complimentary sense of "simple" & "country." Their names were Charlie & Mattie. I never really knew Charlie, as he passed when I was just 1. There is a picture of Charlie & his grownup son holding me that I treasure. Mattie, I knew quite well & loved/love dearly. Her life & laugh & faith matter greatly to many, but particularly to me. Charlie & Mattie's last name? Madaris. My Grandma & Grandpa. Today as we detoured past the old house, there were truly many "sacred scenes unfolding" in the theater of my memory. It used to be the case that when I drove past after Grandma's passing it brought only sadness & tears. Today, it brought only joy & smiles.

Precious memories, how they linger...

Just back up 80 is Elkdale Baptist Church. Grandma was a faithful member. She regularly used to walk the few blocks to get there on Sundays. (Mattie never had a driver's license) Hers was an amazing faith that was rock solid, despite a pretty tough life. She became the "Mom" figure to her younger siblings around age 12 when her own mother was admitted to the mental hospital from which she never returned. Mattie buried her Charlie. She lost children very young, and not so very young, including her second son James. And yet, through the challenges, Mattie's faith only seemed to strengthen. For which I am *most* grateful.

How they ever flood my soul...

A couple of miles up the road is where Charlie & Mattie's daughter Evelyn lived with her husband & their son Joe. Aunt Evelyn & Uncle Joe's place was the scene of many a Madaris family gathering. Which meant football in the front yard, exploring the creek in the back yard, avoiding snakes in the woods, riding horses, dirt clod fights, lots of food, board games, & lots of laughter. Aunt Evelyn is one of several of Charlie & Mattie's kids whose faith stands as a shining beacon, drawing those of us who are following along behind & showing us what deep, abiding faith in Christ looks like. She's there now waiting, in the land of the eternal hello. (Related aside: cancer sucks!) Can't wait to hear her marvelous laugh again, and to sing the hymns with her beautiful voice there beside me.

In the stillness of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold...

Just a few miles east of Selma is the turnoff that takes one to downtown Dutch Bend, AL, which is sort of a suburb of Braggs in Lowndes County. Braggs is more or less the anchor pole of Charlie & Mattie's family's journey, although as a sawmill worker, they moved around a bit. In my day, their older son Charles, Jr. lived there with his family. It is one of my favorite places on the globe, as their place was one of my favorite places to visit as a kid & also as a confused, angry teen. Going there always made me somewhat less angry. Uncle Jr. & Aunt Nell knew how to make boys have a whale of a good time and how to make us laugh. Hunting, fishing, working with the cows, riding dirt bikes,...precious sacred scenes indeed! Uncle Jr. is also there waiting in the land of the eternal hello. Poetically, he entered eternity on one of the very few times I ever knew of him going hunting by himself (most of the time, he was trying to make sure his city-folk nephews got to shoot @ the deer & doves & quail.) Thankfully, Aunt Nell is still around & is a "facebook friend" of mine, in addition to a beloved Aunt.

And old home scenes of my childhood in fond memory appear...

Farther along 80 is Montgomery, AL, which is where this couple I know used to live as young married folks. He worked on the newspaper as a typesetter, and she taught school. Their second son was born there, and is sitting in this chair & typing this blog entry right now.

As I travel on life's pathway knowing not what the years may hold...

Somewhere in Montgomery is a Baptist church. There was a newly-married Sunday School class there in the late 1950s. They hung out, encouraged one another, rocked each other's babies, prayed together, and tried to work through what a Christian marriage was like. I'm so very thankful, for I lived the fruit of their co-laboring for the first 15 years of my life under the roof of one of those couples.

As I ponder, hope grows fonder...

Between Montgomery & Prattville is the "Hank Williams Lost Highway" memorial stretch of I-65. (Hank's buried in Montgomery). I mention this because Hank was a favorite of all of these folks I've been talking about. The last Christmas present I ever bought my Dad--and the only one I actually remember--was an 8-track of Hank's Greatest Hits; I wound up giving it to his brother, Uncle Jr. after Dad's homegoing. I still love me some Hank; smiling right now as I remember this dashingly-handsome country boy from Braggs, AL singing "Hey, Good Lookin'" to his sweetie in the car while their sons giggled in the back seat.

Precious memories flood my soul.

As mentioned earlier, most of these markers for me have in the past brought forth many a tear. Friday night and this afternoon, it was all smiles & thanksgiving. As the old hymn says, "when we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we'll sing and shout the victory!"


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Debriefing 2010

Here's a nearly-random list of highlights, lowlights, & things learned in 2010. I know you're excited...

--Having parts of 2 ribs surgically removed is not as much fun as it sounds.

--The recovery from the above is much longer than the previous two lung surgeries.

--"Your P.E.T. scans are perfect" is one of the greatest sentences ever uttered in the English language.

--Studying, teaching in Sunday School, and hearing sermons on Galatians for 13 weeks is an *amazing* and transforming experience. I'll never be the same.

--Studying for the CFA II exam is much more challenging @ 51 than studying for the CFA I exam was @ 32...*sigh*

--I *love* to read. (Not a new revelation; just yet another confirmation)

--I like to learn new things. Well, mostly.

--One of the great things about the professor gig is that it allows/encourages/demands both of the above.

--I'll never get tired of seeing my alma mater winning the football national championship, even after watching them do so either 7 or 8 times in my years on earth. (can't remember; too lazy to look it up rt now)

--Defense wins championships. Still true, even in this age of flag-football-like offenses. Relatedly, as one of Coach Bryant's assistants once said, "Dancing is a contact sport; football's a hitting sport." Give me smashmouth football all day, on both sides of the ball.

--When my team loses 9 starters on defense, a tight end, & 2 O Linemen, and still goes 10-3 with 6 teams having had an off week before playing us, I'd say we're in a pretty good place.

--Despite the previous three points, I think I am *finally* getting to the point where wins don't make my week, and losses don't break my week. No doubt, I want to win them all, but there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ULTIMATE that's determined by the actions of 160 or so 18-22 year old guys on Saturday afternoon. (or older guys on Sunday afternoon & Monday night, for that matter)

--Relatedly, I was genuinely able to root for the UT Vols in their game, for example, and was disappointed when that wild game ended w/ a UT loss. Also, I was able congratulate my Auburn & LSU & USC-east friends when their team beat mine, and really mean it. Granted, this was a very strange sensation to this lifelong Bama fan (which is sad for me...but at least there's progress on the "proper perspective" front).

--I like it this way, where my friends & my witness for Christ are more important than the outcome of a game. And I deeply regret that it has taken this long to get to this perspective.

--Perhaps there will come a day when I can watch the PCS Bobcats play a football game without choking up with a deep longing to see big #75 strap 'em on one more time. But that day has not arrived yet. (#75 is a handsome fellow; a future pharmacist, who looks a lot like a bigger, stronger, more athletic, smarter, better looking version of me. My favorite football player of all time.)

--Perhaps there will come a day when I can watch the PCS Bobcats play a basketball game without choking up with a deep longing to chat & laugh & pray & cry & eat a Zips burger with my friend, former PCS Head Coach Mark Bryan again. But that day has not arrived yet either. R.I.P., Coach!

--I can still smell the after-shave, & feel the scruff of a 5 o'clock shadow of James E. Madaris, and I still miss him with an absolutely palpable "missing."

--26.5 years of marriage goes by in a very quick hurry...And I am so much more passionately & hopelessly & wonderfully in love with my Bama coed now than I was 26.5 years ago that the comparison is hardly worth making.

--I'm now sitting under some wonderfully consistent, in-depth, Spirit-empowered preaching. I'm so thankful...

--Relatedly, expository preaching through books of the Bible is, by FAR, my preferred type of preaching.

--Aslan is on the move. (Thank you, C.S. Lewis, for that wonderful analogy! Based on all I see/hear/read, it's very descriptive of what's going on right now.)

--The Web & all of its trinkets & apps is an incredible tool...or an incredible time waster. I've used it as both.

--This is a fascinating and very challenging time to be teaching Economics & Finance.

--Riding a bike on Longleaf Trace is BY FAR the most fun fitness/exercise thing I've EVER done. And if--as earlier today--I can do that with the most beautiful coed ever to come through the University of Alabama, so much the better.

--I love my job. And folks I work alongside. (Also not a new one; just a reconfirmation)

--I love where we live. And yet, every time I go down to Mom & Leo's I still wonder why I don't live back down there.

--The best thing about Facebook & Twitter is the chance to re-connect with friends from back in the day that I had let fall by the wayside.

--I have two *fascinating* children, whose company I *VERY* much enjoy.

--Those who refuse to participate in the political process are doomed to be governed by their inferiors. (Winston Churchill, paraphrased)

--So much more could be said. And likely will (you should see my "unpublished drafts" section of this blog...).