Asking forgiveness, it’s never too late nor futile…Poland is such an example

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has
forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

C.S. Lewis

“Freedom is the capacity to assert one’s will against the willfulness of others.”
William of Ockham


Over the past weekend, I caught a lovely news story.

In between the nerve-racking updates about Hurricane Dorian here on the east coast—
the hurricane that just doesn’t want to go away—
to the sorrowful story coming out from the west coast about the tragic boat fire in the
Pacific claiming nearly 40 lives, to another sorrowful mass shooting…
finding a news story that read of hope, if not simply civility, was greatly welcomed.

Below, I’ve simply cut and paste the AT&T news story.
My take on it all follows…

Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has asked for Poland’s forgiveness
80 years after the start of World War II.

“I stand before you, those who have survived, before the descendants of the victims,
the old and the young residents of Wielun, I am humbled and grateful,”
Steinmeier said during a ceremony in the Polish city of Wielun,
the site of one of the first Nazi bombings in the country on September 1, 1939.

“I bow to the victims of the attack in Wielun,
I pay tribute to the Polish victims of German tyranny and I ask for forgiveness,” he said.

Nearly 6 million Poles died during World War II,
which remains the bloodiest conflict in history.

More than 50 million people were killed in the conflict overall,
including some 6 million Jews, half of whom were Polish.

At a ceremony in Warsaw, Polish President Andrzej Duda spoke of the atrocious history
suffered by Polish people during WWII and the “trauma” that they still carry today.

The Polish President remembered the fallen and thanked the soldiers
“who fought and sacrificed their lives for freedom.”

In an address on Sunday morning in Westerplatte, Gdansk,
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke of the huge material, spiritual, economic
and financial losses Poland suffered in the war.

“We have to talk, we have to remember about the losses we suffered,
we have to demand the truth, we have to demand compensation,” Morawiecki said.

War reparations remain a contentious issue in Poland —
since coming to power in 2015, the Law and Justice (PiS)
party has revived calls for compensation, Reuters reported.
Germany made the last payment on reparations in 2010.

US Vice President Mike Pence spoke in Warsaw on Sunday at the commemoration ceremony
to mark the 80th anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland.
Two days later, on September 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany.

“During the five decades of untold suffering and death that followed the outbreak of World War II,
the Polish people never lost hope, they never gave in to despair,
and they never let go of their thousand-year history,” Pence said.

“In the years that followed this day 80 years ago,
their light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” he added.

https://start.att.net/news/read/article/cnn-german_president_asks_for_forgiveness_80_years_aft-cnn2/category/news

The nation of Poland has a great deal to teach the rest of the world about perseverance
as well as the ability to forgive…just as it seems a German leader has a few things to teach
all of us about the never-ending ability to ask one who has been tragically wronged, to forgive.

But you’d need to understand a bit of history first to truly appreciate this story.

I’ve touched on Poland and her history before in a few previous posts,
but it seems the importance of revisiting has resurfaced.

Poland sits in a pivotal location geographically.

According to the renowned author and biographer, George Weigel, in his international bestseller
Witness to Hope / The biography of Pope John Paul II,
Poland’s location at the crossroads of Latin and Byzantine Europe, it’s geography,
and its repeated experience of invasion, occupation, resistance and
resurrection gave rise to a distinctive Polish way of looking at history.

Poland sits in the middle of Europe—in between the majority of Europe to the west
and Russia along with her broken minions to the east.
Poland has, down through the centuries, proven to be a historical bulwark.

She has literally been the defending line between tyranny and democracy for centuries.
And she has never complained about her pivotal lot.

I am reminded of the verse from the book of Luke:
“From everyone who has been given much,
much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much,
much more will be asked.

Luke 12:48

“Polish history is generally taken to begin with the baptism
of the Piast prince Mieszko I in 966. Mieszko’s choice for Latin Christianity
over Eastern Christianity, which had been formed in the orbit of Constantinople,
decisively shaped Poland’s history for more than a millennium.”

By Mieszko’s choice, a Slavic land and people would be oriented toward the Latin West.

These Roman Slavs were a bridge between Europe’s two cultural halves;
they could “speak the language of two spiritual worlds.”
Poland’s Catholicity and its geographic location led to a certain catholicity
of cultural temperament.

Tartars and Swedes had laid waste [to] the country; the Austrians had stripped the
Old Town of its fortifications and walls (Kraków); occupying powers of varying degrees of
ferocity had displaced the kings and queens of Poland from the royal castle,
atop the “Polish Zion.”
Now, on September 1, 1939, Wawel Cathedral was about to experience something beyond the
imagining of those who had worshiped beneath its gothic vault for centuries.

Poland, as a nation, has been erased numerous times from the known geographical
maps of human history.
Meaning, she was eliminated as a nation…
absorbed by her greedy neighbors on more than one occasion…
actually being erased for over 100 years from any historical map.
Yet the Polish people and their spirit as a unified people, has always remained.

Weigel notes “Poland is not always appreciated this way.
Indeed, the suspicion seems widespread that the Poles
must, for some reason or other, deserve their bad luck.
Yet Poland’s curse is neither in the stars nor in the Polish people.
It’s the neighborhood.”

“For more than a thousand years, the Polish people and their state have inhabited an enormous
flat plain bounded by large, aggressive, materially superior neighbors.
…The Germans were always to the west, and almost always aggressive.
German-Polish enmity followed and peaked in World War II,
when the Nazis sought to eradicate the Polish nation from history.

World War II, which the Poles sometimes describe as the war they lost twice,
was an unmitigated disaster for Poland.
Six million of its citizens our of a prewar population of 35 million,
were killed in combat or murdered– a mortality rate of eighteen percent.
The nation was physically decimated.
Poland became the site of the greatest slaughters of the Holocaust.
And, at the end, another totalitarian power seized control of Poland’s political future.

Karol Wojtyla, the future pope, would live under and eventually be formed by
these two occupying and oppressive regimes–two regimes that would each lend an
unknown hand to the building of a formidable world leader and in turn their own
nemesis and foe.

According to Wikipedia:
On 16 October 1978, Poland experienced what many Poles literally believed to
be a miracle.
Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, the archbishop of Kraków, was elected pope at the Vatican,
taking the name John Paul II. The election of a Polish Pope had an electrifying
effect on what was at that time one of the last idiosyncratically
Catholic countries in Europe.
When John Paul toured Poland in June 1979, half a million people came to welcome
him in Warsaw; in the next eight days, about ten million Poles attended the
many outdoor masses he celebrated.
John Paul clearly became the most important person in Poland, leaving the regime
not so much opposed as ignored. Rather than calling for rebellion,
John Paul encouraged the creation of an “alternative Poland” of social
institutions independent of the government, so that when the next crisis came,
the nation would present a united front.

On 27 October 1991, the first (since the 1920s) entirely free Polish parliamentary
election took place.
This completed Poland’s transition from a communist party rule to a Western-style liberal
democratic political system.

And so despite the centuries of war, siege, occupation, death, murder, and even obliteration…
Poland has remained…just as she continues to remain.

And so we are fortunate in that we, as a world, may watch as a one-time warring
and occupying nation sincerely offers a very humble and visceral apology.
Words that cannot erase the pain, suffering, loss or unfathomable human tragedy…
but words offered by a nation who can admit to the sins of her past…
which in turn now offer hope to a renewed future for us all.

Forgiveness, Hope and Healing—all offered to a very troubled and very needing world…

We continue to hold on to Hope…

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander,
along with every form of malice.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,
just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:31-32

living in before

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there,
wondering, fearing, doubting,
dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

Edgar Allan Poe

“Some dreams are best not to wake up from.”
Hiroo Onoda


(before the beaver, there was a tree / on the shores of Mackinac Island, Lake Huorn /
Julie Cook / 2017)

Following the official unconditional surrender offered by the
Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu,
on behalf of the nation of Japan on September 2, 1945 aboard the USS Missouri…
a ceremony presided over by General Douglas MacArthur,
Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Pacific…
life for a handful of soldiers remained unchanged…
their lives, duty and existence continued on as it had before the surrender.

For despite the war having been officially declared over, there remained a smattering
of Japanese soldiers hunkered down and holding on to various small
South Pacific islands…
soldiers, cut off from commanding units and or communication, all unaware
that their nation had surrendered let alone that the war was now
indeed officially over.

Hiroo Onoda was one such soldier.

Onoda had been trained as an intelligence officer…
specifically trained to gather intelligence in order to carry out and conduct
a guerrilla war against the enemy.
He, and a unit of men underneath his command, had been taken to Lubang Island
in the Philippines with direct orders.

On December 26th, 1944, Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines.
His orders from his commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, were simple:

You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand.
It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens,
we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier,
you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts.
If that’s the case, live on coconuts!
Under no circumstances are you [to] give up your life voluntarily.

Daven Hiskey
Feb 9, 2010
‘Today I Found Out’

Following the end of the war Onoda fought on for another 29 years …

Onoda had refused to believe the “propaganda” in the way of dropped leaflets,
villagers pleas or former fellow Japanese soldiers sent to tell Onoda the truth.
He refused to believe any of it but rather was convinced it was all a ploy
by the enemy to take control of the island.

Until 1975 when his former commanding officer,
now an old man working at a bookstore in Japan,
was brought to the island to convince Onoda of the truth.

Reluctantly, yet ever the solider, on March 10, 1975 at the age of 52 an emaciated
Hiroo Onoda put on his 30 plus year old dress uniform and marched
from his jungle hideout to present then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos
his samurai sword.

Over those 30 years Onoda’s small band of fellow soldiers had either
eventually surrendered or died…
but Onoda remained a loyal guerrilla fighter making life miserable for the local
islanders. The islanders did their best to convince Onoda that Japan had
surrendered and that the war was over. During the 30 years Onoda fought his single
war, 30 villagers were killed and 100’s of others were wounded by this
lone guerrilla fighter

The story in itself is fascinating as well as sad.

Yet Onoda’s story is not just a story of survival or of disbelief,
or of skewed conviction but rather his is a tale about living life
in the before verses the after.

There was a single event that had marked the end of the war…
However Onoda had not been privy to that event.
He had not witnessed the surrender.
He knew his Nation’s determination.
He did not actually hear with his own ears the words spoken by his leaders.
He had been given a single command, and until he heard a reversal command
from his commanding officer, he would do his duty and serve his nation to his
utmost ability.

Rarely is such conviction found in men.

I thought of this story yesterday following the news I received regarding
the death of my aunt. Whereas she had been sick and even worsening,
the death from cardiac arrest came suddenly and unexpectedly yet in hindsight,
most likely blessedly.

Had I not answered my phone yesterday morning….
in my small narrow world, my aunt would still be alive.
She would be living on in my perceived reality.

For had I not heard the word, had I not been informed of the factual event
I would have gone on as before…knowing she was sick, fighting cancer, hanging on…
but not having died….not just yet.

The life of living before or the life of living after.

Before is usually what we know, what we’ve come to expect and what we rest in.
After equates to new, different, unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

In all of this I think of Thomas, the doubter.
The one disciple who had not been with the others when a risen Jesus
had manifest himself to their broken hearts.

And as Thomas happened to be away from the group, still broken hearted,
still wounded of spirit, still grieving…
he refused to believe the fantastical and or miraculous offered by his friends.

“Not until I see with my own eyes, put my hands in his wounds…I will not believe.”

Oh how we are all so convinced by the acknowledgement of our senses.
Convicted by sense.

For Onoda, the war had actually been over for those 30 years he lived in a
remote jungle fighting a non-existent war.

For my aunt, she died at 12:40 yesterday afternoon had I or had I not
answered the phone.

Jesus rose with or without Thomas having been present to see, touch, hear, feel…..

But because Jesus knew that we would all be so much like Thomas—needing
to be convinced, He offered Thomas, who continues offering each of us
the acknowledgement….
“my Lord, my God….”

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them,
“Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger
in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.
The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said,
“Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas,
“Put your finger here, and see my hands;
and put out your hand, and place it in my side;
do not be faithless, but believing.”
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him,
“Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

John 20:24-29

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2541104/Japanese-soldier-Hiroo-Onoda-refused-surrender-WWII-spent-29-years-jungle-died-aged-91.html

What will you leave behind

And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.
Jeremiah 23:3

DSC01384
(the story of a piece of wood found in a cross cut knot / Julie Cook / 2015)

Recently I read a story on the BBC website about an ominous discovery. It was a story about finding, along with the subsequent necessity of diffusing, an undetonated bomb from WWII. The bomb precipitated the largest post war evacuation ever in the history of Cologne, Germany.

As is often the case, a construction company preparing a site for some new underground pipe made the frightening discovery. The unexploded 1 ton bomb was buried 16 feet below the surface.

20,000 city residents, including those from an elderly care facility along with the Zoo, several schools and surrounding businesses were all evacuated in Cologne yesterday as the Rhine River was closed to commerce as was the air space over the city as a bomb squad team was dispersed to safely unarm the bomb.

According to the German newspaper Die Spiegel it is estimated that hundreds of tons of bombs are discovered yearly littered throughout Europe, with the highest percentage being found in Germany–Thousands of undetonated bombs are either buried underground or lying on the bottom of ocean floors–from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Underneath the lives of 21st century modern-day Germans—under homes, major thoroughfares, schools, churches, synagogues, shopping centers, business. . .all unsuspecting that there is a dark reminder which lies hidden just below their now busy and peaceful lives.

Several times throughout any given year, global news is littered with stories of farmers, fishermen as well as construction crews who inadvertently make such grim and frighting discoveries. Be it the fishermen off the coast of Denmark dragging their nets to awaiting underwater remnants, to construction crews in Germany, Poland, England, Amsterdam and Russia who accidentally uncover an all too explosive past to the farmers in France and Belgium who simply labor to plant their fields which are rife with a deadly debris—all live bombs that were dropped 70 years ago which still pose a very real and dangerous threat today.

In 2014 a man operating a back hoe in the town of Euskirchen near Bonn was killed when he accidentally hit a buried bomb, triggering the deadly explosion. Eight others were injured

In 2011, 6000 citizens on the outskirts of Paris were evacuated from their neighborhood when a 1000 pound unexploded RAF bomb was discovered by a construction crew.

In 2012 thousands of citizens were evacuated in Munich when the discovery of an undetonated 550 pound bomb was found laying buried beneath a nightclub made famous in the 1970’s by the British Rock Group, the Rolling Stones.

Yet it is not only Germany or her sister countries of Europe or Russia which are sitting on top of potential catastrophes. . .
Millions of buried land-mines litter the Balkan region which spans 11 countries. In recent years, these countries have witnessed heavy and devastating flooding. . . flooding which has in turn unearthed thousands of undetonated deadly land-mines. Long buried reminders from the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.

Last year the British news agency The Telegraph ran an article about how scientists from both France and Croatia have been working together on enlisting “sniffer bees” to help “sniff” out explosives. Scientists discovered that the bees olfactory sense is on par with that of dogs and that the bees can be trained to keenly sniff out TNT. Bomb experts hope to release the bees in the fields while following their movement as they “hone” in on buried explosives.

Southeast Asia is also rife with deadly reminders of its tumultuous past as a fare share of its forgotten nightmares, those thousands of undetonated buried bombs and land-mines, all of which now litter the fields, streams and cities from Vietnam to Laos to Cambodia to Korea and even to Japan.

And then there is the Middle East. . .Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Iran. . .

The global list of the dark reminders of conflicts, police actions, as well as world wars, litter the world like a spilled bowl of popcorn.

The mainland of the United States has been left relatively unscathed when it comes to things such as land-mines and buried undetonated bombs. The US is fortunate in that the sorts of discovery of war paraphernalia is from wars fought long past. . . Revolutionary, Indian, Spanish and Civil Wars—all long before modern warfare’s use of live ammunition and bombs.
Only the wayward musket ball, arrowhead, spear, sword or cannon ball. . .

Yet there are those rare times that a country is privy to more shining historical moments such when a farmer, tending a lone field somewhere in the UK, or an errant treasure hunter detects, then digs up, a hoard of Roman coins or battle gear. There was even the recent story of the lost remains of a once dubious king, King Richard III, being unearthed from underneath a parking lot in Leicester.

These are the stories of what lurks beneath our feet. . .

Yet the question remains. . .
What of future generations?
What shall they be unearthing that once belonged to us. . .
What will our discarded, throwaway, perhaps deadly legacy be. . .
What of the dead zones such of Chernobyl or Fukushima?
What of our own Love Canal and Three Mile Island?
What of the mountains of discarded toxic trash littering Paraguay and Argentina?
Much of which has been shipped from the US to be dumped in impoverished countries.
That whole “not in my backyard” mentality.
It is the poisonous remains of our love affair with the never ending growth of technology and electronics. . .all full of lead, mercury,cadmium, dioxin. . .
Thrown out and shipped out. . .as in. . .out of sight, out of mind. . .

Hidden dark reminders of our fractious as well as industrial past, resting unsuspected and forgotten. . .until a child playing in a field finds a shiny piece of metal sticking up out of the ground and makes the fatal mistake of pulling it out. . .

The question remains, what will future generations unearth that once belonged to us and what will be the consensus?