Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Lesson in Gettysburg

Detail from "The Battle of Gettysburg"
July 3, 2012

Sitting in the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport awaiting my next flight and watching as folks coming into the terminal go through security, it becomes evident to me that we have indeed changed how we travel. Our fears have moved us to take precautions in order to protect human life. Experience has told us it is not only necessary but that we must provide the highest levels of security in order for travelers to feel safe.

As I am nearing the end of itineration and three months of visits to congregations, my final stops have been in Richmond, Virginia, and Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Sunday I found myself driving west of Washington, DC, in an effort to avoid the I-95 monster and congestion; my destination--the United Methodist Church at Camp Hill where I was scheduled to give a presentation. Searching for a route that would allow me to arrive on time, I discovered US-15 North. I was taken aback by the beauty of the drive, the horse ranches and beautiful hills. Seeking a rest stop, I exited and found myself unexpectedly at Gettysburg. It held a captivating mystery which I longed to understand better.

The next day, July 2nd, on my return trip to Richmond, I decided to take some time at Gettysburg. Just the night before at Camp Hill UMC, a former Texas coworker and her husband came to see me and on hearing of my plans to visit Gettysburg the next day, gifted me with the “Auto-tour of Gettysburg” CDs.

Driving through the battlegrounds and listening to the stories of generals and foot soldiers made me wonder just what it is that continues to lead us into decisions of battle. It isn’t anything new for mankind, and history is filled with similar stories. But as I drove to Little Round Top and heard the words of leaders and commanders on both sides of that battle, I realized it was more about individuals following the voice of promise. The conflict occurred there on July 2, 1863, and here I was on the same ground on the very day of that battle 149 years ago.

From Lincoln to Lee, men had very good reasons for standing firm on their words of leadership. Opposing views seemed to stem from an economic demand of the people, and both had determined the right course of action to make that demand fruitful. But at what cost? The “Auto-tour” mentioned comments from some of the dying for their families: "tell them I died with my face to the enemy."

As I stood in the Gettysburg Cyclorama (a mural of "Pickett’s Charge" by French artist Philippoteaux, completed in 1883) and viewed the recreation of the bloody battle on US soil, I thought of the farm boys sent out to defend the views of their leaders and communities. I thought of the families who would now live with only the memory of their loved ones. War is a complicated thing and is always messy and should be avoided at all costs.

I’ve visited the Alamo; the USS Arizona Memorial; an Indian Reservation; Ground Zero; and now Gettysburg. Recently, while in Chicago I had an opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois. It was a solemn walk through the small beginnings of evil. Hitler had the right words, promising wealth and power, and the people responded. The Jews thought it was just a phase and would soon pass. In the end, concentration camps were opened to “handle” the problem.

A great part of the responsibility of leadership lies with each of us when we make our demands upon those we have selected to lead. I now wonder if we should be more cautious of what we ask our leaders and understand the reasons why they are asking to lead.


Becky Harrell
Advance #15141Z

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