Category: God


It’s amazing how much of the trivia of television history is preserved on YouTube.  I recently came across some clips that had been buried fairly deep in my memory– some of my favorite short segments from the children’s educational show Sesame Street.

To be specific, I’m not talking about segments involving the main cast of human characters or Muppets like Bert and Ernie.  I’m talking about the short (30 seconds to a minute) pieces on a variety of subjects that were shown close to randomly in between those.

They could use animation, stop motion, or live action film.  Most were musical, but some had lyrics and others just had interesting pictures set to music.  They seem to have come from a variety of sources– I still have no idea who made most of them.

But a few of them were among my favorites when I was a kid, and I always enjoyed whenever they would show up.  My faint memories of them led me to look them up on YouTube, and I was pleasantly surprised to find all of them there!

So, in no particular order, here are my favorite non-Muppet Sesame Street segments:

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In my last post, I said that I had some “new and awesome things” to tell you about.  Well, the biggest thing that has happened to me this past year is that I have met a young woman named Megan, and she has become my girlfriend!  Like me, Megan is a Christian diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.  We actually met through this blog and started a discussion about our shared experiences with Asperger’s that spread to all sorts of topics.  Over the past several months, we’ve been able to travel to see each other a few times and meet each other’s families, and we have had a wonderful time together.  Megan has been such a blessing to my life, and I thank God that we met!

I’ve been thinking for a while about what I want to say about my relationship with Megan on this blog.  In online discussions between Aspies, the topic of “How can I find a girlfriend (or boyfriend)?” is understandably one of the most frequent and earnestly asked questions among young adults with Asperger’s.  Loneliness can be such a nagging, wearing thing to deal with.  Of course, I have sometimes wondered whether a message board full of people who struggle with social skills might not be the best place to get relationship advice!  😉

In truth, it might not be much different from advice you’ll find anywhere else on the Internet, or in the world in general, though.  There are people who think they have relationships simplified to a formula, a set of steps that is guaranteed to work.  There are plenty of people who’ve become bitter because of past experiences and will try to tell you why “All women/men are the same.”  There are those who will try to convince you that if you don’t hurry and conform to a specific pattern, you will be “too late” and forever undesirable.

There have been a lot of specifically Christian relationship trends during my lifetime:  During junior high and high school, the main advice was “Wait and go slowly; better safe than sorry.”  Then in college it was “Dating is unbiblical; you should only date someone if you want to marry her.”  Then, “Not enough men are taking responsibility; stop being afraid to take the initiative and ask a girl out.”  Then after college, “Too many people are waiting too long to get married!  What’s going on?”

(For my part, I was so withdrawn from social activity in general that I would shake my head and laugh at all of these trends as they zipped by.  If you’ve been on zero dates, it’s all pretty theoretical, isn’t it?)  🙂

Ugh; I feel like I’m getting far away from the point of this post.  Anyway, now that I have a girlfriend for the first time in my life, I feel like I should have some sort of wisdom to impart to those who want to know how to go about finding one.  Except I really don’t.  Honestly, I’m probably more surprised by this situation than anyone else.  I still get a stupid grin every time Megan calls me her “boyfriend” because it sounds so strange!

The only thing I can say is that long before I met Megan, I’ve always taken comfort in the idea that I don’t have to become what “every woman” expects in a man.  I don’t have to meet the expectations of every woman in the world, or of anyone on a website, or even every Christian writer who’s published a book about the topic.  I reject the idea that all men or all women are the same, anyway.  In the end, all that matters is pleasing God, and if it’s His will that I meet a woman to be my girlfriend, wife, whatever– then what I need to do is love *her* as the individual creation– the bearer of God’s image– that she is.

That’s an awesome task.  And it’s an exciting one!  I don’t know what God ultimately has in store for me and Megan, but He designed each of us down to the most intricate details of our hearts and minds, and I trust that He has the best in mind for both of us.  A boyfriend-girlfriend relationship between two Aspies might very well be expected to look a bit different from one between two neurotypicals.  And it will be different again because of the two unique people that Megan and I are.

I’m sure that I have a lot to learn, and I look forward to sharing some of our experiences here, in hopes that they will be helpful or at least interesting!  Thanks for reading.

There’s a line in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that I always liked.  It’s from the episode “Ensign Ro,” which introduces the character Ro Laren, a young Bajoran Starfleet officer who is a bit of a rebel.  She was serving time in a detention center because of an incident in which she didn’t follow orders and several Starfleet officers died.  Ro is released from detention to help the Enterprise crew with a mission involving the Bajorans.  She’s made to feel less than welcome on the ship, and she’s not thrilled about being there.

Inexplicably, Captain Picard’s old friend, the wise bartender Guinan, decides to become Ro Laren’s friend whether she wants it or not.

Guinan: Am I disturbing you?

Ro:  Yes.

Guinan:  Good. You look like someone who wants to be disturbed.

Ro:  I’d rather be alone.

Guinan:  Oh, no you wouldn’t.

Ro: I beg your pardon?

Guinan: If you wanted to be alone, you would’ve stayed in your quarters. The only reason to come here is to be among people.

Later on, after Ro does hide in her quarters and Guinan still tries to start up another conversation with her, the two women have this exchange:

Ro:  Why is it that every time I tell you something, you tell me I mean the exact opposite?

Guinan: Because you’re one of those people who’s got their poles reversed.

Now, I’m definitely not much like Ensign Ro (I’m pretty far from being a rebel), but I often find Guinan’s assessment of her amusingly fitting for my own life.

As a kid who grew up going to church, Christian school, and a Christian college (all of which I’m thankful for), I’ve had the chance to listen to more than my share of sermons, messages, and advice.  Generally, people want to help warn children away from the things that they think are most likely to mess them up.  So you’re much more likely to hear someone talk about the importance of working hard on your schoolwork than you are to hear them talk about how to make friendships and have fun with people your own age.  Because there are plenty of cases of people regretting not taking their studies seriously, but kids automatically know how to have fun with each other, right?

But what if you “have your poles reversed,” and doing schoolwork comes naturally to you, while making friends is hard?  For a while, you’ll probably think you’re doing even better than most of the people around you!  But eventually, you might feel that you missed out on gaining the social skills and experiences that other people take for granted.

Similarly, it’s common to hear a lot of messages warning against thinking too highly of oneself, of becoming prideful.  But what if your wiring is “backwards,” and the way you fall victim to pride is by tearing yourself down, expecting you will mess something up, and keeping track of your mistakes?  Like an undead enemy in an RPG, what’s meant to be healing can actually poison you (and even weirder, what others think is harmful may actually be what you need most!)  Weird analogy, I know.  🙂

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining, because I actually think it’s pretty neat to be this way, now that I understand myself a little better.  Sometimes I feel like laughing, because from where I stand now, the process of maturing mentally, socially, and spiritually is almost like a battle against conventional wisdom.  It’s kind of like my “homework” is to spend time making friends with people, and my “chores” are to look for reasons to be positive about who God made me to be and to enjoy the good things he gives.

I have a hard time complaining about homework and chores like those!

Earlier, I wrote about how I was afraid that becoming a teenager would turn me into a rebel and make me fight with my parents.  That didn’t happen.  But my thinking did change.  Looking back, I think that was when I first started dealing with “the voice.”

It was a voice that would remind me of all the times I had messed up, when I had looked silly, when I had hurt someone’s feelings.  Being reminded of a mistake felt like reliving it– even years later, I would look back and shudder about the smallest misunderstandings.

It was a voice that told me to pause before speaking up, reaching out, or taking action.  What if I made a mistake?  Better to stay silent and hidden.

It was a voice that told me whenever something bad happened, to assume it was my fault.  “I’m sorry.”  I felt like I needed to apologize for everything– it probably was my fault somehow.

It was a voice that told me to compare myself to others and that I wasn’t ready for the challenges ahead– I didn’t know how to drive (or want to learn how), I didn’t have a job, I didn’t like to go out with friends, I’d never had a girlfriend, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I graduated.  And before I knew it, it would be too late to learn.

I want to be clear about this– when I talk about hearing a “voice,” I don’t mean the sort of voice that a person with schizophrenia might deal with, where you can’t tell for sure if what you’re hearing is a real sound or coming from your mind.  (Also, I know almost nothing about schizophrenia aside from the fictionalized portrayal of it in the movie A Beautiful Mind, so my concept of it may not be very accurate.)

See, I knew that the critical voice that plagued me came from my own mind.  It was my own voice, the voice of my fears.  As I said in an earlier post, part of growing up was that I became more aware of other people, and of their awareness of me.  And that caused me to be more careful about what I did and said.  But my rule-oriented mind took it to the extreme.  And it tended to create a vicious cycle, because the more I hid from potential failure and embarrassment, the more I feared that I was leaving myself unprepared for the world by not trying.

To greater and lesser degrees, every day since then became a fight against that voice in my head– usually subtle, but sometimes exhausting.  I could fight it by distraction, or by applying myself to a task that I really enjoyed.  Better still, I could fight it with other voices– the voice of God’s Word telling me that I was forgiven, my sins had been paid for, and God was in control of my future.  The voice of the Holy Spirit assuring me that I was a beloved child of God, and the voices of my family echoing that same unconditional love.

One of the greatest things about God is that he is so near.  I don’t have to make a journey to talk with him.  I don’t have to go through a series of mental exercises to make my thoughts acceptable to him.  He is as close as my own thoughts at all times.  Just by remembering that he is there, I can turn any time of distress and doubting into a prayer.  This didn’t make the struggle go away, but it meant I never had to struggle alone.

Hopefully this post makes some sense; I don’t intend for it to be a “woe is me” post.  I’m trying to be honest about how I see my life and development.  My next post will be on something more fun and less serious.

I’ll finish with a couple of quotes from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis that hint at how this struggle will end.  If you’re not familiar with The Screwtape Letters, they are written as a collection of letters from a demon named Screwtape, whose nephew Wormwood is assigned as the tempter for a young man.  These sections come from the last letter, in which we learn that the young man was killed in a bombing raid, and Wormwood has failed in his task:

“How well I know what happened at the instant when they snatched him from you!  There was a sudden clearing of his eyes (was there not?) as he saw you for the first time, and recognised the part you had had in him and knew that you had it no longer.

Just think (and let it be the beginning of your agony) what he felt at that moment; as if a scab had fallen from an old sore, as if he were emerging from a hideous, shell-like tetter, as if he shuffled off for good and all a defiled, wet, clinging garment.”

And:

“Defeated, out-manœuvred fool! Did you mark how naturally—as if he’d been born for it—the earthborn vermin entered the new life? How all his doubts became, in the twinkling of an eye, ridiculous?

“I know what the creature was saying to itself! ‘Yes. Of course. It always was like this. All horrors have followed the same course, getting worse and worse and forcing you into a kind of bottle-neck till, at the very moment when you thought you must be crushed, behold! you were out of the narrows and all was suddenly well. The extraction hurt more and more and then the tooth was out. The dream became a nightmare and then you woke. You die and die and then you are beyond death. How could I ever have doubted it?’

“As he saw you, he also saw Them. I know how it was. You reeled back dizzy and blinded, more hurt by them than he had ever been by bombs. The degradation of it!—that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. Perhaps you had hoped that the awe and strangeness of it would dash his joy. But that is the cursed thing; the gods are strange to mortal eyes, and yet they are not strange.

“He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not ‘Who are you?’ but ‘So it was you all the time.’

Hello, everyone!

One of the things I wanted to do this new year was write more often on this blog, so here I am, only 22 days into the year!  : )

I finally got to see the movie adaptation of the musical Les Miserables with my family yesterday.  I thought it was terrific!  Most of the reviews I had seen of the movie were mixed, so I was expecting not to like parts of it, but I thought everyone in the cast did a great job.  (Yes, even Russell Crowe as Javert.)

I think it’s unrealistic to compare the movie to the stage production based just on the singing, because the stage actors are among the best in the world at using their voices to express their emotions.  The movie took advantage of its cast’s screen acting ability, often having more subdued singing performances, but a lot more going on with characters’ expressions, actions, and body language.

That meant that it was wise to change some things about the way the movie portrayed events.  For example, when Jean Valjean decides to steal the bishop’s silver, the stage production has Valjean himself describe the event to the audience in song:

He let me eat my fill; I had the lion’s share
The silver in my hand cost twice what I had earned
In all those nineteen years, that lifetime of despair
And yet he trusted me.
The old fool trusted me– He’s done his bit of good
I played the grateful serf and thanked him like I should
But when the house was still, I got up in the night
Took the silver…
Took my flight!

Valjean practically screams the final word of this monologue, giving the audience a sense that he has made a choice that there will be no turning back from– He was imprisoned and enslaved unjustly for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child, but now he has been so beaten down by the world that he has given up and has become a thief indeed.

In the movie, we can see Valjean (Hugh Jackman) steal the bishop’s silver, and having him sing about doing it (loudly, while in fact he is trying not to wake anyone) would likely seem awkward.  So even though this is one of my (many) favorite parts of the musical, it makes sense not to present that part of the story in song.

There are a lot of other changes to the musical.  Some things are left out; others are added.  The order of a lot of songs is changed.  But the impressive thing was that I agreed with virtually every decision.  It made sense for Fantine (Anne Hathaway) to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” after we see the depths her life has sunk to when she loses her job and has to make sacrifice after sacrifice to earn money for her child Cosette– selling her hair, her teeth, and finally her self.  In the stage production, the song is the introduction to the character Fantine, in which we learn what she is about.  In the movie, we can more easily get an idea of her innocence and vulnerableness through her actions, and the song works better as a summary to get us to think back on what we have seen.

There’s so much more I could say about this story– it really resonates with me because of the central place it gives God.  Without Him, it’s just a sad story, but with Him, it is full of hope.

My parents had explained to me from an early age that I was growing every day, too slowly to see, but that after a number of years, I would eventually become a grownup like my Dad.  That was a good thing, I thought!  My Dad was the smartest person I knew.

Like most children, I was asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, and like most children, I had some pretty funny answers to that question based on whatever interested me most at the time I was asked.  When I was fascinated by road maps and traffic signs, I thought that I’d like to be the person who makes all of the stop signs, street name signs, and exit signs.  There must be someone who does that, right?  Well, then, maybe I could be a cartographer.  That was a person who made maps.

When I was fascinated by learning the bones and organs of the human body, I thought I might like to be a doctor just like my father.  He took me to work one time and showed me an actual skeleton they had there for medical students to study (I guess?), and I amused my Dad’s coworkers by pointing out and listing the names of all of the bones I had learned.

When I was fascinated by learning about the stars and planets, I thought I’d like to be an astronomer.  Then I could write the books I enjoyed reading so much.

But as I began to get a little older, I started hearing some things that made me worry.  My aspie brain was constantly taking in information from what I heard people say, from what I read, and from what I saw on television.  I learned that before I became a grownup, I would first become a “teenager.”  And I didn’t think I wanted to be one.

Why?  Well, the first thing most people seemed to say about teenagers was that they didn’t get along with their parents.  I heard it wherever I went.

Adults would warn/tease their friends with young children: “You think being a parent is tough now– just wait until they’re teenagers!”

At a Christian concert, the singer joked about how it’s hard for parents to watch their children grow up and leave home when it seems like the time goes so fast, but that God had provided something to make it easier for parents to let go:  “It’s called the teenage years.”

In stories and TV shows about families, the teenage characters always seemed to be either arguing with their parents or trying to get away with something without their parents knowing.

Teenagers often seemed to be portrayed as a bad influence in morality tales for younger children. (And in the 1980s and 1990s, even some of the most mindless children’s shows tried to present themselves as morality tales!)  If a story was about the evils of alcohol or drugs, or just trashing the house with a party while your parents were away, one of the first signs of trouble was getting the “big kids” involved.

It’s pretty silly, but I began to dread becoming one of these teenagers.

I didn’t want to fight with my parents!  I knew that the Bible said that children were supposed to obey their parents.  Besides, I liked my Mom and Dad!  I decided that I would try my best to make sure that I wouldn’t become rebellious.  (The idea that I thought I was in danger of turning into a rebel is actually pretty funny now, knowing my personality.)

[I just thought of an interesting tangent I could follow here, but I’m going to try to save that for another post, because this one is taking me too long, and I’m ready to be done with it!  🙂 ]

I don’t know why I didn’t talk to my parents about my fears until much later (when I realized I hadn’t turned into a monster after all).  Even then, I spent a lot of time thinking to myself, trying to figure things out.

I wonder if other kids worried about growing up the way I did.  Hopefully, most people are not as literal-minded about it as I was.

There’s a neat story I want to share with you.  I’m remembering it second-hand, so I might not have all of the details right, but I can explain the gist of it:

A while ago, my parents were visiting a church while on vacation.  The guest speaker was a pastor from a sister church in Africa.  One of the things they remembered from his message was that he spoke proudly about his teenage children, who were seeking to honor God and help others in whatever they did.  He said that he was dismayed by how much he had heard the idea expressed in America that teenagers are lazy or a burden or always up to trouble.  God can use anyone at any stage of life, and we should not let ourselves or others be defined by human labels and categories.

That’s such an encouraging message!  I think it’s important to realize that even when an idea seems universal in our culture, that doesn’t mean it’s correct.

September 11

I’m afraid this post is about some terrible things, but they are true, and we need to remember them, or they will happen again.

On Tuesday morning, September 11, I was on a trip through Europe with my Biblical Archaeology class.  On our last day in Germany, we visited an awful place about ten miles from Munich.

Dachau was a concentration camp, where anyone the Nazis deemed “undesireable” was sent to be used for forced labor or to be put to death.  During the Holocaust, over 200,000 people were taken there as prisoners, and over 30,000 died at Dachau– shot or beaten by the guards, worked to death, killed by disease or starvation, or used in medical experiments.  We don’t actually know the full number of people who died there, and no one can calculate the amount of violence done to people’s lives.

A museum there recounts the ugly history of the place.  There was too much for me to take in at once; I’m afraid I don’t remember a lot of specific images from the black-and-white photos, but there was one showing the belongings of people lined up in a corner.  Where were the people?  They had just been killed.  I saw the propaganda of the time that sought to portray Jews as less than human; the drawings nightmarishly distorted their faces.  There were the gold stars of David that Jews were forced to wear, and the pink triangles forced on homosexuals.  Other documents talked about the mentally and physically handicapped in terms of monetary cost to society; it would be better for “everyone” just to get rid of them, they argued.

This was not something that could only have happened in Germany; I knew that America had a strong eugenics movement at the time, and we still hear some of the same arguments today about the “cost” of a disabled child or an elderly adult to society.  We still hear anti-Semitism and the hatred of people just because they are different.  One of the saddest things for me was to consider how many Christian churches in Germany didn’t see, or chose to ignore, what was happening.  It seems like only a few, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie ten Boom in the Netherlands, put their lives and freedom on the line trying to do something about the evil that was taking place.

We saw the wooden barracks that the prisoners were crowded into, and the ovens used to dispose of the bodies.  I saw a memorial with a phrase in bold letters repeated in several languages.  The one at the top was Hebrew.  I scanned down until I found the English translation:  “NEVER AGAIN.”

As you can imagine, seeing Dachau was a sobering experience; we didn’t speak much on the bus ride back.  But it was important to see, especially when I consider that there are people who try to argue that the Holocaust never happened.  I saw where it happened.  Someday, there won’t be any survivors still on the Earth with direct memory of the concentration camps under the Nazis, but I will remember what I saw.

We spent a little time walking around Munich and getting lunch.  I feel bad that there is so much heaviness in this post, because Munich is a beautiful city, and I don’t want everything I say to be negative.  The whole class had lunch at a huge table in a restaurant, and we scared the waitress when someone initially asked for separate checks for each of us.  Her eyes got really big, and she said, “So, you want… eins, zwei, drei…” and her voice trailed off as she continued to count.  We could tell we had made a mistake, so we told her a combined check would be fine, and we would figure out how much each of us had to pay.

The class split up into smaller groups until mid-afternoon, when we began to gather at the Munich train station for our trip to Italy.

The scene when I got there was surreal.  People were standing everywhere, watching the news on large screens.  I could not understand what the German reporters were saying, but I could understand the proper names in the captions, and the billowing smoke in the video spoke for itself.  There had been an attack on New York City.

Some of my classmates who had been at the train station longer explained what they knew.  Terrorists had hijacked passenger airplanes, killed the pilots, and steered the planes to collide with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  I continued to watch as the news showed one of the towers collapsing under its own weight and disintegrating in a huge cloud of smoke and dust.  Then I saw the same thing happen to the other tower.  I felt like asking someone if what I had just seen had really happened– the Twin Towers, which I had seen close up just a few months ago– were gone?  Until then, I had assumed that they were just hidden by smoke.

Another video showed people blocks away from the towers running as the smoke and dust billowed out towards them.  It looked for all the world like a scene from the movie Independence Day, a silly alien invasion movie.  The destruction in that movie was offered as entertainment.  Why had we thought it was entertaining to imagine?  This was real.  I don’t watch that part of Independence Day anymore.

The shock seemed to break down some of the social barriers.  People shared their reactions, feelings, and worries with anyone who spoke English, even total strangers.  Rumors spread– some partly true, some totally false.

— “A terrorist named Osama bin Laden was behind the attack; he was also responsible for the bombing in the 1990s.”
— “There might be a million people dead in New York.”
— “President Bush told Colin Powell, ‘Go get bin Laden now.’ Our troops are already on their way to Afghanistan.”
— “Another plane hit the Pentagon in Washington.  There might be more attacks on other cities.”
— “A plane went down in Pittsburgh.”

That last rumor shook me.  My grandparents lived in the Pittsburgh area.  Also, how many planes must the terrorists have if they were using one to attack Pittsburgh?  It can’t be that high up on the list of important targets in the United States.  It scared me to think there might be that many more attacks.

Of course, you probably know now that the source of that rumor was the account of Flight 93, which was hijacked and was likely intended to hit the Capitol or the White House in Washington, D.C.  The passengers were able to learn of the other attacks, and they sacrificed their lives by fighting the terrorists, causing the plane to crash in western Pennsylvania before it could reach its target.  I am amazed at their choice to fight back despite the danger and cost.  As deeply as the attacks hurt Americans, can you imagine what that day would have been like if the White House or the Capitol had also been destroyed?

As is typical of me, I didn’t talk much or even reach much outwardly; I just turned my thoughts over in my head.  What an experience this trip was turning out to be.  Was I going to be in Europe for the start of World War III?  The first two started there, after all.  All things considered, I was probably safer here than in America right now.  I said a prayer for my family; I wondered what they were doing.  My mom was probably worrying about me.  I prayed for the people in New York and elsewehere who had been hurt by the attacks, and for their families, and for the President.  God was in control, even in terrible times– I reminded myself that he was not unaware or caught off guard by anything.  I didn’t know how anything good could come out of this, but I believed that God can bring good out of even the worst situations.

I wanted to talk to my family.  My parents had given me a couple of calling cards in case I wanted or needed to call home, and I decided to give it a try, even though people were saying that all the phone lines to the U.S. were overwhelmed.  To my surprise, it worked!  I got through to my brother Jonas, who was watching over the house while my parents were on a road trip out West.  He asked how the trip was going, and I told him it was pretty amazing.  I asked him if he was watching all that was going on today.  He said that he had been working on something for class– what was going on?  I told him he might want to turn on the news and told him what little I knew about the attacks.

Jonas said that Mom and Dad hadn’t called yet, but he had heard from them over the past few days, and their trip was going fine.  I told Jonas just to tell them he had heard from me, and we were all fine.  I didn’t know what was going to happen to the rest of our class trip or when I was going to get home, but I was fine.  My mom later told me that she was really glad to hear that when she called Jonas to tell him she and dad were cutting their trip short and coming home.

The class eventually gathered in the same place.  Dr. B. explained what he knew of the situation, and he told us that as far as the rest of the trip went, we were going to follow our planned itinerary and go to Italy.  There wasn’t really anything else we could do anyway, as all flights in and out of the U.S. were grounded, and no one knew when it was going to be possible to fly again.  We would have to wait and see what things were like four days later when we were scheduled to fly back to Newark from Rome.

Some students had tried to get in touch with their parents but had had trouble getting through.  One of my classmates was very upset, because her father was an airline pilot, and even though she knew he probably wasn’t on one of the planes, what if he was?  Dr. B. had a relative who worked in the World Trade Center, and he hadn’t heard from him.  We all prayed together that God would keep us, our families, and our country safe.

Finally, it was time to board our train to Italy.  We sat down across from a young woman who recognized that we were from America and asked us where we were from specifically.  “Ohio,” we told her.  “Oh.  So not very near the disaster,” she said.  “No,” we said, but it still felt very close.  We rode on in exhausted silence.  A while later, I asked my classmates if I could read Psalm 2 to them.  Its words had been on my mind.

“Why do the nations rage?”

(Sorry about the long delay between posts; I had a great deal of this one written a few weeks ago, but I forgot to save my work before my computer’s batteries ran out, and whenever that happens, it takes me a while before I feel like writing again.  I am also planning to get back to posts that deal more with Asperger’s syndrome again once I’m done talking about my class trip.  Anyway, thanks for reading my story; let’s go on!)

On Monday, we got on a bus and set out for Munich, which is about 350 miles south of Berlin.  Some of my classmates were excited about the prospect of seeing the Autobahn, Germany’s famous highway system that has no speed limit under certain circumstances.  (The speed rules on the Autobahn have gotten more strict in recent decades than they once were; it now uses electronic signs to adjust the speed limit and number of open lanes based on the amount of traffic and to warn of accidents blocking the road.)

As one might suspect, riding a bus on the Autobahn is not very different from riding a bus on a highway in the United States, except that the speed of the cars passing us may have been faster.

I talked with some of the other football fans in the class, sharing the results and scores of the games I could remember seeing the previous day.  I observed that while obviously soccer is the most popular sport in Europe, Germany seemed to be the country most receptive to American football, based on the fact that all but one of the NFL Europe franchises had ended up moving to Germany.  (NFL Europe no longer exists, though, so obviously it didn’t catch on that much.  The teams were all pretty terrible anyway, being made up of players who were trying to make it onto an actual NFL roster.)

About 50 miles out of Berlin, we stopped at the smaller town of Wittenberg.  It was there that Martin Luther, a priest and teacher of theology at the university, published his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 and started the Protestant Reformation.

I saw the church building where, according to one of his students, Luther nailed his document to the door so that everyone could read it.  There was a paper printout of the Ninety-Five Theses stuck to the door still.  Of course, it wasn’t the same door as was there in Luther’s time.  In fact, the entire building had burned down and been rebuilt at some point over the intervening 500 years.  I was reminded of the old story about the farmer proudly declaring that he owned the very hatchet that had once belonged to George Washington– only the axe head had been replaced three times and the handle four times.

Still, it was amazing to see the spot where such an influential moment in church history (and world history, really) took place.  I thought about the story of Martin Luther’s life.  After surviving a terrifying thunderstorm in which he cried out to God for help, he vowed to become a monk.  But he found that nothing he could do– hard work, sacrifice, even punishing himself– could take away his fear of having to answer to a perfect, holy God.  Every selfish thought, every careless word, every wrong motivation was an offense against God, who required perfect obedience arising from pure love.  Luther would spend hours confessing his sins until his fellow monks were weary of him. He was terrified that he would leave some forgotten sin unconfessed, and the more closely he scrutinized himself, the more sinfulness he found.

Luther found comfort in reminding himself of Christ’s sacrifice for his sins.  A Bible verse that greatly influenced his thinking was Habbakuk 2:4 (which is quoted in multiple places in the New Testament), “The just shall live by faith.”  Luther could never earn salvation by trusting in his acts of repentance; rather, God had provided the perfect sacrifice in Christ and called Luther to look to Him in faith.

Years later in Wittenberg, a traveling friar named Johann Tetzel was raising money for the church by selling indulgences.  For doing the good deed of donating money to the church, the purchaser of the indulgence received a guarantee that the punishment for his or her sins would be lessened.  People could also purchase indulgences on the behalf of relatives or friends who had died, in order to shorten the time their loved one would need to suffer for their sins in order to become fit to enter heaven.  Tetzel was a fiery preacher and a good salesman, and he was very good at stirring the emotions.

In his Ninety-Five Theses, Martin Luther argued that Tetzel’s preaching was in conflict with the teaching of the Bible.  He didn’t disagree with the importance of repenting of one’s sins– in fact, he stated that “the entire life of believers” should be “one of repentance.”  But Tetzel’s promises were leading people to trust in their own deeds and the effectiveness of the indulgences he was selling rather than in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Luther quite boldly took the leaders of the church to task in his document, accusing them of allowing Tetzel to preach these things because it was an effective way to raise money.  His stand caused him to make enemies in the church, and it would end up putting his life in danger, but Martin Luther continued to write about trusting in God’s grace for the rest of his life.

Inside the Wittenberg church, our New Testament professor led us in singing Luther’s most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  “I’ve always wanted to do that,” he said.

We made it to Munich that evening after stopping for dinner at a restaurant that had something similar to a buffet.  The bread in Germany is so good!  I used my nonexistent German skills to ask for food by pointing to it and saying “Das, bitte”.

I think I was trying to say “This, please,” but I may have been saying “The, please.” and I probably wasn’t even using the correct form of the article.  My phrase book basically said “der, das, die— use whichever one you want.  People will still know what you mean.”

Also, they will probably not confuse you for a native speaker of German!  The servers were very kind, smiling when I would say “Danke schön.”

We attended two church services while we were in Germany, but I’m having trouble remembering the exact details of when and where they were.  One service was in German, in a large, old church building.  Since I didn’t understand a word of the sermon, I didn’t feel guilty about not getting much out of it.  The hymns were pretty, but I didn’t sing along since I had no idea what I’d be singing if I did.

The other service was a worship meeting at a church that had a lot of visitors from other countries.  It was much less formal, but it was in English.  We sang worship songs and heard a couple of personal testimonies; there wasn’t really a message– it was actually more of an announcement of how they weren’t going to meet at the same time anymore.

Some other random memories of exploring Berlin:

— There were big, colorful painted statues of bears all over the place.  Based on a Web search I just did, the bear statue custom has since spread to many cities around the world, but it apparently all started that very summer, 2001 in Berlin.

— I really like drinking soda (or pop; whichever word you prefer), so I thought it would be a bit tough to get used to drink refills not being free at restaurants in Europe like they are in the United States.  (Really!  In the U.S., you can just go back and refill your cup of soda by yourself in a lot of place!)

But I survived somehow.  ; )  Actually, I discovered a new favorite soda thanks to my trip to Europe:  Fanta.  There was a grapefruit or other citrus-flavored variety that I tried in France, and then in Germany, I discovered orange Fanta, and it ended up supplanting orange Crush on my list of favorites.  I was surprised when I came home and found that they had sold Fanta in the U.S. too all along.

— We visited a department store, with multiple floors and everything!  These seem to be pretty much gone in the U.S., replaced by miniature versions in malls.  I found a computer with Internet access and used it to check on how the Pittsburgh Steelers were doing in their season opener.  They were losing 21-3 in the second half to Jacksonville.

— German is cool because it has an extra letter that English doesn’t have, the eszett: ß.  It’s basically a double S.  The place I saw it the most was on road signs, because the German word for “street” is straße (strasse).

Previously, I had only ever seen the eszett in a shape that looked like a rounded letter “B,” like this:  
But most of the street signs in Berlin used a different shape: 

The eszett on these signs looked a lot like the letters “fs” combined into one symbol, and I realized where the letter had come from.  English used to have two ways to write the lowercase letter “s.”  The most common way made it look a lot like a lowercase “f.”  The short “s” was only used if it came at the end of a word, or if it immediately followed another “s.”  So, for instance, on the Bill of Rights, the end of the word “Congress” looks like this:

Does that look familiar?  If you merge the two letters together, you get the eszett from the Berlin street signs.  If you smooth the letter out so it can be written quickly, you get the more common ß.

I know this is probably stuff that everyone in Germany learns in preschool, but it was fun to figure out, at least for me.

— Sadly, the only German words I really retained from my trip were the basic numbers.  I learned them when I was playing a fun card game with my classmates.  It was like Uno, in that the object was to get rid of all of your cards.  But we kept adding rules to it until it was almost impossible to keep track of them all, and every time someone was caught breaking a rule, they had to draw more cards as a penalty.  One of our rules was to say the value of the card in German.

We visited two Berlin museums, the Egyptian Museum of Berlin and the Pergamon Museum.  There were a lot of incredible and beautiful artifacts; I ended up taking a lot of pictures (not the one shown here; this is one I just found with a Google image search).

The Ishtar Gate

The most amazing thing was the Ishtar Gate, which was built in about 575 BC in Babylon under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar.  It is almost 50 feet high, made of bricks that are glazed blue and gold.  In the wall are raised images of lions and dragons.  “Daniel walked through this gate,” said Dr. B. with a little tremor in his voice.  The prophet Daniel was led captive from Jerusalem when he was a teenager to serve in the king’s court and spent the rest of his life in a foreign land.

Seeing the impressiveness of the gate made me think about the bravery of Daniel and his friends to trust in the power of the God they could not see rather than the power of the king, which was on display all around them every day in Babylon.  They remained faithful, even when threatened with death, and even when faced with the passage of many years far from home.

September 5: Paris

Our bus driver and tour guide in Paris was Antoine.  My mental picture of him is that he was bald and wore sunglasses, but I’m not too confident in my memory of faces.  He was experienced with the sometimes chaotic traffic of Paris, weaving the giant bus through gaps as easily as if it were one of the tiny cars zipping around.  Traffic jams could develop quickly, producing a cacaphony of horns and raised voices, but Antoine was usually able to anticipate and avoid them.

He shared a few facts about the city of Paris as we neared the hotel, including the fact that it was divided into districts, and the one where our hotel was located was known as a “red-light district.”  This produced nervous laughter from the students.  Our professors issued a friendly reminder not to be tempted by establishments selling sex.  “Once they have you inside, they will get you to give them as much of your money as they can.”  I don’t think we were tempted– in fact, we were a little nervous about possibly being in a rough part of town.  We made sure to only go out in groups.

The hotel was an old building with plenty of charm.  There continued to be lots of honking and shouting from the intersection outside, and as the hour got later, voices from the buildings joined in, presumably yelling for them to keep the noise down.  Believe it or not, I still got a good night’s sleep.  In the morning, we went downstairs for a breakfast of tea and croissants served by a delightful old lady.

I feel bad that this post so far has dwelt on the negatives of the part of town we were in.  I was impressed by the friendliness and warmth of the Parisians we interacted with.  Overall, our time in Paris was the most relaxing part of the trip– there was a laid-back attitude to the city that permeated everything.  Yes, people yelled in traffic jams, but that almost seemed more like a sport that people embraced with gusto rather than an outpouring of stress.

And, of course, the city is beautiful.  On Wednesday, Antoine took us on a bus tour to see many of its most famous sights.  We stopped at the Arc de Triomphe, which is in the middle of a huge roundabout– making your way to the center is an interesting challenge!  We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, which gave us a great view of the city.  I noticed several football (soccer) fields.

Notre Dame Cathedral was awe-inspiring.  I thought about how it almost two centuries to build and wondered what it must have been like to spend a lifetime working on a project that wouldn’t be complete for generations.  It still stood as a monument to God, who is not constrained by time.

For some reason, the thing that sticks in my memory the most was seeing the “zero point” of Paris, which is about fifty yards away from the cathedral.  Apparently, whenever the distance from Paris is given, if one is to be precise, it is actually the distance from that point.  So until you have been there, you have always been at least some distance from Paris.

Paris holds a lofty place in the development of our system of measurements.  A meter used to be defined as one ten-millionth the distance of a line from the North Pole to the Equator that passed through Paris.  And the standard weight still used to define a kilogram is kept in the Paris suburb of Sévres.

In the late afternoon, we took a sightseeing tour of Paris by boat on the river Seine.  One of the interesting things we saw was the other Statue of Liberty, the miniature copy that the United States gave to France as a thank-you for building the big statue designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi that looks out on New York Harbor.  Hopefully, they did not think it was tacky to give them a smaller version of the same thing.

As afternoon turned to evening, buildings and street lamps lit up, and we saw why Paris is called the City of Light.

One last thought for the day:  I’m fairly sure I remember seeing a memorial for American soldiers who died in France during World Wars I and II.  I thought about my grandfather, who had spent time in France as a soldier during the second World War.  He had been so excited to hear that I was taking a trip to Europe– he sent me a note wishing me a good trip along with some coins from each country I would be visiting.

He shared with me that he had made instant friends in Europe by giving people a pack of gum and suggested that I could do the same.  Of course, today anybody in Europe can get chewing gum any time they want to just by going to the store.  Practically anything that’s available here in the U.S. is also available in Europe.  But my grandfather’s story drove home how much the world can change in a lifetime– and how people in places like France and America are free to enjoy good things only because of the sacrifices of people like my grandfather, and the soldiers remembered at that memorial, and countless others from other countries.

I was surrounded by history on this trip– not just Biblical history, but also recent history that had shaped the world.