And speaking of life, a sparkling river—the Colorado—runs through it all. That stretch of jade did a lot of the work – eroding the mighty cliffs, shaping, and elevating them over time. The snake-like river a full mile below contrasts with the canyon walls but keeps our focus on the rocks—which are becoming more awe-inspiring and breath-taking as they age. They testify to the wonder of aging.Even as they evoke wonder, can these rocks be considered symbols of hope and joy? Without question, they lift the spirit and humble the intellect. The Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, does not compete with any other rock formation on earth.
But her cousin formations in Utah’s Bryce and Zion national parks have an eerily similar heart-lifting effect. Bryce wows with its “hoodoos,” miles of playful orange-red spires shooting from the earth in magical sculptures. Squint to see a Silent City, Thor’s Hammer, the Chinese Wall or Queen Victoria. Further south, sister canyon Zion overwhelms with Olympian color and height. Here the visitor walks through sunken canyon trails with two-thousand-foot red rock cliffs soaring on either side. We gaze up to The Court of the Patriarchs, Angel’s Landing, and Temple of Sinawava (a Paiute wolf god). The Virgin River gurgles, Archangel Falls hush, and at sunset from Canyon Overlook, silence preserves splendor. Oh joy. A bubble of hope.
But you’re right -- they're just rocks. And it is always more compelling to tell stories about real people. So, let’s close with a tribute to some real people who really get rocks, and inspire wonder, hope and joy. Here is a photo of Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and an intrepid Mars explorer team last month.
These happy NASA folks are celebrating the successful launch of “Ingenuity,” a four-pound helicopter that became the first aircraft in earth’s history to fly on another planet. They have reason to rejoice in this "Wright Brothers" moment because they designed it. Launched from the Mars Perseverance Rover, the rotors bit into the thin atmosphere, lifted, and sent back splendid images. Of red rock. And of massive craters, winding channels, dips and swells.
The 2020 NASA Mars team is building on the tradition of linking new wonders to all world civilizations. The Rover Perseverance set down in the enormous “Jezero Crater,” which scientists speculate was once a lake fed by a winding channel of a river. Jezero is a Slavic word meaning “lake” and NASA chose the name specifically to salute the small Bosnian village of Jezero with geography (lake and river delta) eerily similar to the Martian landing site. After its war-torn recent history, the thirteen hundred citizens of Jezero now have a lot to cheer about. “It is the most fascinating and unique experience for us,” a student at the village school said. “The mighty Perseverance rover landing in a crater on the red planet that owes its name to our town. Wow!” (On the day of the landing the town of Jezero sponsored a volley ball game between “Earth” and “Mars.” Mars won.)
The section of the crater where Perseverance landed is named “Tséyi,” a Navajo term for the heart of their homeland (Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly). A series of other Martian landmarks will receive Navajo names too; for example, a distinctive rock the team is drilling into is named “Máaz” (Navajo for Mars). And appropriately, Navajo engineer and Ingenuity team member Aaron Yazzie designed the drill bits that will extract samples from the rock's core. Navajo nation President Jonathan Nez remarked “We hope that having our language used in the Perseverance mission will inspire more of our young Navajo people to understand the importance and the significance of learning our language. Our words were used to help win World War II [Navajo Code Talkers], and now we are helping to navigate and learn more about the planet Mars.”
The first samples of Martian rocks will be returning to Earth in 2030. Some of the scientists who will be examining them are in our grade schools now. Let’s not fail them. This May let’s celebrate human wonder that conduces to awe and knowledge. Let’s celebrate the hope and joy that come from such wonders and understanding. Let’s challenge them to “dare mighty things,” so we can keep on rockin’ it for the twenty-first century.
Mary Beth Klee
This April’s volunteer focus complements ourCore Virtues themes for the month: humility, graciousness and courtesy, and even forgiveness. Pastor Rick Warren once described the virtue of humility as “not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. Humility is thinking more of others.” That’s what voluntarism is all about. Most of us have an innate understanding that “no man is an island” and we are part of something larger than ourselves. We have a choice to be part of that and to serve others.
One of the most poignant volunteer initiatives underway, “Children of Vietnam,” dovetails with themes of forgiveness and humility. Through this organization many veterans of the Vietnam War (and others) have returned to Vietnam to assist their former enemy -- needy families in the Central Highlands who now benefit from their initiatives building kindergartens, giving food assistance, and providing medical help for kids. Some work with children suffering from the effects of chemical Agent Orange, which was dropped during the war to despoil the jungle. "I have the feeling that we need to restore some things," said Captain Larry Vetter, who served in the war. "The United States government refuses to do that, so I'm here to do my part." They stay for weeks or months and some for years. It is not just a path of service but one of healing for many, bringing closure to a time when the two peoples were enemies, and lending credence to the old adage that “in giving, we receive.”
So this month, we salute the millions of volunteers nationwide and worldwide who do more than just your part. Three cheers for the volunteers.
Mary Beth Klee
When well done, this initiative creates empathy and a much-needed sense of human solidarity. From an early age, children come to value the experiences of those who have grown up in circumstances they cannot imagine. It is wise and good for children to know the stories of Dave the Potter, a South Carolina poet, potter, and slave, who left a legacy of beauty, or of Belle Baumfree who became “Sojourner Truth” or Booker T. Washington, whose admonition to “cast down your bucket where you are” gave hope and a game plan to generations of African Americans. It is uplifting to know the story of Elizabeth Jennings, the free black girl who in 1854 was denied a ride on a NYC streetcar, sued the streetcar company, and won, nearly 100 years before Rosa Parks. It is important to know the stories of Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s first woman doctor, who opened a hospital for the poor and orphaned in New York City, Jane Addams, whose work founding Hull House in Chicago aided tens of thousands of immigrants, or Wangari Maathai, whose work to preserve Kenya’s green belt saved her homeland from deforestation. We could go on and on, and on the Core Virtues site, we indeed DO. See our tabs for Black History Month and Women’s History Month and Labor history in Labor Day and every other virtue month.
And more tabs are on the way. In 2019, Congress designated June as “Immigrant Heritage Month” and November as “Native American Heritage Month” (both proclamations signed by Donald Trump.) That’ll mean more stories for us. In Immigrant History month, we’ll get to feature Andrew Carnegie, Mother Jones, Samuel Gompers, Jacob Riis, Cesar Chavez and Madeleine Albright. In Native American History, stories of Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee alphabet, Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph, as well as many beautiful works of fiction inspired by truth.
Is all this diversity celebration a bad thing? Only to the extent that we start celebrating one at the expense of the other, emphasizing victimhood, and losing sight of the main lines of American History – which has been a beacon of liberty and opportunity. The United States is a creedal nation. In 1776-- a time when nearly three-quarters of the world’s population lived under some sort of forced servitude (slavery, serfdom, indentured servitude, concubinage) --the United States was born of the conviction that “all men are created equal.” That was an extraordinary historical achievement, a first in human history.
Was the execution of that radical idea flawed from the beginning? Yes – the glaring contradiction of slavery existed for nearly a century after the founding and trapped nearly 14% of our population in bondage. And women did not at the time have the right to vote and if married, could not own property. We could continue to list ways in which various members of our citizenry did not quite have equity in 1776 or 1861 or 1920 or 2020. But the radical idea of rights and liberties embedded in our founding documents and in our law has provided fertile soil for ongoing reform and progress. And THAT has been part and parcel of the American experience from the outset. No other nation reforms and reinvents itself as frequently as the United States, and does so in the spirit of liberty and equality.
The danger of our new obsession with diversity is celebrating difference as “essence.” Compassion for one ought not to imply contempt of another. Diversity ought not to be a synonym for division. We need to know our past and learn from it – its dramatic accomplishments as well as its missteps. We share citizenship in this "liberty and justice for all" republic, and it is worth remembering that we have those very ideals as common ground. Maybe we need compassion for ourselves, our past, and the immensity of the social and political tasks we have undertaken.
Mary Beth Klee
One thinks of Jacob Riis, Danish immigrant turned photographer, who trained his camera lens on squalid tenement house life New York City, and moved the conscience of a generation. One thinks of Jane Addams, who was born to privilege in Chicago, but used her family wealth to establish settlement houses to assist impoverished immigrant communities. Or Ida Tarbell, who fearlessly exposed the corrupt business practices of Standard Oil and broke the back of monopoly. Or Upton Sinclair who shone a light on nauseating meatpacking processes and worked for pure food supply. Or Ida B. Wells, who drew national attention to the evil of lynching and changed minds and hearts. These “muckrakers” as they were known at the time, were all real people, warriors for justice, whose life and work ensured movement toward a more just society.
Does the arc bend on its own? No. Justice doesn’t just happen. History provides ample evidence of that. Would Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany ultimately have bent the arc toward justice? Would Stalin and his secret police? Would Pol Pot? No. Their ideas, their regimes, their actions, and the sheer might of their enforcement apparatus would not have allowed it. We can always count on human nature, with its unquenchable striving for freedom to rise up occasionally in defense of human dignity and lend force to the ongoing quest for justice. But only the presence of good law and real warriors for justice can ensure that the arc will bend. America has had both. And continues to be blessed.
Mary Beth Klee
Our Harry Truman-inspired courage blog this month (below) was written before an angry mob stormed the Capitol on January 6. We stand by the column's sentiments, but the moment requires something more. The founder of the Republican party, Abraham Lincoln, launched his political career with a speech denouncing “the mobocratic spirit” too evident in parts of the country. He contended that should it happen, American demise would not come from across the Atlantic (recall the War of 1812 when the British stormed the Capitol), but from free Americans themselves, who chose to take the law into their own hands. He called on Americans to have the courage to stand by our laws and institutions, and change bad laws rather than take the law into their own hands. Lincoln’s 1838 Lyceum address (somewhat shortened here) bears re-reading.
Harry Truman, president of the United States at the close of World War II, said “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” We associate Truman with ending WWII, employing the atomic bomb against Japan. But his inspirational quotation applies to the bravery and sacrifice of conscientious objector Desmond Doss, to whom Truman awarded the Medal of Honor.
During World War II, Doss (despite being granted a deferment) enlisted in the Army and served as a combat medic in the Pacific. A Seventh Day Adventist, he refused to carry a gun or kill the enemy, and endured the scorn of fellow soldiers, who saw him as a coward. But he earned two Bronze medals for heroism in Guam and the Philippines (caring for the wounded in combat). And Harry Truman awarded him the Medal of Honor for his remarkable bravery in Okinawa.
There, Doss’s unit, stationed on a cliff, came under attack by the Japanese, who cut down nearly every man. Under constant fire, Doss rigged a stretcher with ropes and a pulley to lower each wounded man to safety—one at a time, over and over. Lord, help me save one more. Truman estimated the number of fellow soldiers Desmond saved at seventy-five men, though Doss said probably fifty. The Medal of Honor is the military’s highest award, and Doss is the only conscientious objector (he described himself as “conscientious cooperator”) to have won it. Memorialized by Mel Gibson in the 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge, the courageous actions of Desmond Doss make our daily battle against an invisible foe seem just a bit more manageable. As Rosie the Riveter would remind us, “We can do it!”
Mary Beth Klee
One of history’s greatest teachers, whose birth we celebrate this month, would agree. Jesus of Nazareth’s teaching attracted thousands of followers, and he was so “moved with pity for the crowd” that he refused to disburse them on empty stomachs. “Give them something to eat” was his command to his disciples, and, according to the gospels, five loaves and two fishes became sustenance for the five thousand (with baskets leftover). That example inspired Salvation Army founders, William and Catherine Booth, and American settlement house founder, Jane Addams, and “Houses of Hospitality” founder Dorothy Day to each launch initiatives to feed the hungry. Thousands of non-profits continue that work worldwide.
If you are in a position to assist, we urge your generosity to today’s champions against hunger. The following two organizations are four-star charities, working tirelessly to feed the hungry in our nation and abroad. But don’t forget your local food banks and shelters.
Feeding America at https://www.feedingamerica.org/
Action Against Hunger https://www.actionagainsthunger.org
Be a light in the darkness: “Give them something to eat.”
Mary Beth Klee
Albert Bierstadt’s family had emigrated to the United States from war-torn Prussia in
the 1830s, settling in the seaside village of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Young Albert’s
imagination and heart, however, were always drawn to the hills. Venturing first into New
Hampshire’s “prodigious hilltops,” he hiked the White Mountains, scaling Mount Washington in 1852 (at age 21), and returning various times to Franconia before the Civil War. Albert’s love of light and mountains led him to the Hudson River, and “the mighty mountains of New York,” where he painted alongside a second generation of Hudson River School artists. He took time to return to Europe and study in the Swiss Alps, but as early as 1859 he joined an expedition to “the snow-capped Rockies” with government surveyor Frederick Lander, and thus began a life-long love affair with the American west. He described the Rockies as “the best material for the artist in the world.”
Bierstadt painted big: epic landscapes that inspired awe. His Rocky Mountain Landscape, Lander’s Peak wowed Americans and Europeans alike. In 1863, the thirty-year-old Bierstadt sold the six foot by ten foot canvas for $25,000, the equivalent of $400,000 today, a staggering sum for a young artist. And he was just beginning. The same year that he finished “Lander’s Peak,” he went west with a friend to visit California’s Yosemite in “the curvaceous slopes of California, ” the Sierra Nevada range. He forever memorialized its grandeur in luminous renderings of the Valley of Yosemite; these stunned and enraptured viewers.
It is possible to criticize Bierstadt for idealization of the Sierras. But some of the region’s
earliest explorers, such as John Muir, shared his sense of these mountains as a nearly religious experience, a “Range of Light,” in which “the whole body seems to feel beauty when exposed to it as it feels the campfire or sunshine, entering not by the eyes alone, but equally through all one’s flesh like radiant heat, making a passionate ecstatic pleasure-glow not explainable.” “These blessed mountains,” Muir wrote, “are so compactly filled with God’s beauty, no petty personal hope or experience has room to be.” The mountains were an experience of promise and awe after a time of horror.
For the next forty years, Bierstadt, the gifted immigrant from Germany and child of New
England shores, found his subject in the grandeur of the American west. He painted the Grand
Canyon and the Wyoming range. His first journey west of the Mississippi had taken place in
1859, when buffalo herds were in the millions. By the 1880s, the animals were nearly extinct.
His “Last of the Buffalo” (1888) called attention to the loss. At the time the painting was
criticized for “marring” a perfectly good landscape with close-ups of “savages,” that is Native
Americans hunting. But Bierstadt was committed to capturing the whole of the American
experience – landscape, bison, and native peoples -- with dignity, precision, and concern for the future.
A New Yorker (by this time) and an advocate for wildlife preservation, Albert Bierstadt became a close friend of not-yet-president Theodore Roosevelt, who in the 1880s embarked on his own love affair with the west in the Black Hills. Back in New York, Bierstadt and Roosevelt worked for legislation to prevent poaching of the bison in Yellowstone (established as a national park in 1872). TR’s imagination was fired by Bierstadt’s paintings of Yosemite, and as President, he embarked on a camping expedition with naturalist John Muir that resulted in preserving Yosemite as a national park as well. National park legislation has been one of the great acts of stewardship undertaken by the American people, and the paintings of Albert Bierstadt heightened awareness of these unique wonders.
This month, as we vote (and work to overcome rancor), we should remember that we've been through worse times. Let's call student attention to the virtues of gratitude, wonder, and stewardship. Bierstadt's work sprang from gratitude and wonder, and inspired better stewardship. Here's to mountain majesties, and let freedom ring!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.