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Archive for September 11th, 2009

JohnUeltzhoeffer

I was in a great mood until about 10 minutes ago… now I am filled with sorrow, and anger. I am filled with empathy and compassion, and with a burning desire for vengeance…

I am part of an international blog movement to remember each and every innocent life lost during the attack on September 11, 2001. Each of us volunteered to be paired with one of the names of the victims and write a tribute for them. The intent of this tribute is so that their name will live on – not only in the memories and scrapbooks of their family members, but also in the minds, and hearts of those of us that choose to Never Forget.

The individual that I was given to research was John G. Ueltzhoeffer. One of his colleagues and friends wrote this last year as he remembered John:

It has been seven years since I last saw John on September 10, 2001 at the Marsh office at WTC1 95th floor. Myself and John were hired by Craig Hayashi in June 1998 and we were part of an unique team called the Enterprise Architecture Group.

Our job was to be thought leaders in our respective technology domain of expertise and to help Marsh’s (and MMC companies) senior level executives, business leaders and technology group understand how new technology solutions could be leveraged to support the business tactical and strategy goals.

As a software architect, John led the team’s initiative to exploit JAVA and was instrumental in establishing J2EE as the software architecure framework standard at Marsh.

I can remember when John worked on the initiative to select an application server standard for Marsh. He was proactive in his efforts and had recommended the IONA application server (www.iona.com). Although his recommendation was turn down by senior management due to IBM’s Websphere application server having greater marketshare, John led the efforts to establishing development standards leverage IBM’s Websphere at Marsh.

John had a strong commitment to his religion faith and family – his office was full of family photos and artwork drawn by his kids. In terms a colleague, John was always supportive of my initatives as Marsh’s Data Warehouse Architect.

John’s family and friends should be proud to know that he made an impact on his colleagues at Marsh and always had a positive attitude and humble demeanor.

John is always in my thoughts and he his missed.

Regards,

James L. Smith

Another aspect that I learned about John is that his little sister, Helen, thought the world of him. She still misses him and often expresses the depth of this void in comments to other tribute entries that mention her brother. He was also a devoted member of the Christian group called Promise Keepers. The mission of a Promise Keeper is to ignite and unite men to become warriors who will change their world through living out the Seven Promises.  Promise Keepers’ vision is simply put in three words: “Men Transformed Worldwide.”

When people met and got to know John, I learned from my research, three important aspects to his life quickly came across – the pride he took in doing his job, his deep religious convictions, and his love for his family. John was a technical architect in the Marsh technology department so therefore had to have in-depth knowledge about the latest computer technologies. John was very knowledgeable in this subject area so quickly built up a high level of respect with his peers. During meetings and discussions with John on various technology issues he was often described as always speaking with such enthusiasm and be so up to date with the latest technology developments that it made others make sure they were up to date with their readings just so they could keep up.

Another aspect of John’s life was his strong religious beliefs. It did not take long in talking with him for his faith in God to come across. Whenever he went out to lunch together with friends, he would always take time to say a prayer before having lunch. In the time following John’s passing, it has become more evident about this side of him and how involved he was with his church group and friends. This has gone further to impress friends that knew John in that he lived his life which such conviction.

Most importantly, was John’s love for his family. Two instances that typify this in John. The first was when he was on a business trip overseas in Europe. He had been gone for about a week and a friend remembers him talking on the Friday when he was set to come home. He mentioned how he had switched his flight to an earlier flight so he could get home earlier. He then said something to the effect of how hard it was for him to be away from his family. It was not the words that he said that his friend remembers, but the way he said it just underlined how much he missed them. The second was when a few of them were at lunch. Somehow the conversation turned to their families and John took a picture out of his wallet of him and his wife on their wedding day. One of the guys at lunch remarked how beautiful his wife was and how he thought she looked like a movie star. Upon hearing this John’s face just lit up and you could see the happiness and love he felt. This is the way that friend remembers John G. Ueltzhoeffer – and I think the way that we all should as well. A devoted Christian, father, brother, husband, and son…

A few paragraphs of words obviously cannot do justice to capture all that John meant to his family and friends. In my own memories I’ll remember John for the unassuming way in which he lived his life and how much of an impact he had on people around him. Even though I never met John in person, I feel like I know him and know that this world is less without him in it…

Tears are flowing easily now, and I’m remembering re-experiencing the rage and indignation that I felt “That Day”. I would imagine that That Day will remain with me all the days of my life – seared into my memory, much like scarification sears a design into skin.

John, to you – and to all the victims of That Day:

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orchard

The Garden of Gethsemane is not really a garden but an orchard. Olive trees still grow there today. During Jesus’ day it was a place of business, an olive press producing the local areas supply of oil. This is where the word Gethsemane comes in. A gat (Hebrew) is a press, a large five-foot high square stone pillar, and a semane, or seman, is oil. So on the evening before his crucifixion he went to the orchard of the Olive Press with Peter, James, and John, to pray.

If you lived in the first century and worked with a gethsemane your day would be spent gathering olives, placing them in a woven fishnet like bag, and putting them on top of a stone table. This specially designed table is round with beveled edges that curve down to a trough. The trough is angled and funnels into a pot which holds the oil. The top is designed to receive the gethsemane. The tall square stone is lifted up and set on top of the basket and for several hours its tremendous weight is left there to crush the liquid from the olive.

olivepress

It is no mistake that Jesus spent his last evening in the Garden of Gethsemane. From there he would leave to go to the cross and receive the weight of the world, the gethsemane of our sins, blood crushed from his body running down the cross to the world below. Luke describes the pressure Jesus suffered that evening: “Being in anguish his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” It is an image of the gathsemane crushing the oil from the olive fruit.

olive press ooze
Gethsemane ever since has come to symbolize suffering. And my friends the world is crowded with gethsemanes, Herods slaughtering the innocent. Look around the United States: Oklahoma City, Heath High School, Columbine, New York City. And around the world: Dunblane in Scotland, Halabja in Iraq (i.e., the gassing of the Kurds), Srebrenica in Bosnia, and the town of Beslan, Russia.  The world is full of gethsemanes, times when and towns where the innocent have suffered.

In the face of such unspeakable horror we ask ourselves these questions:

I

First who do we turn to? It is safe to say that all of us here mourned with those mothers and fathers in Russia who lost over 300 of their children, just as the world suffered with us on September 11, 2001. In a small town the loss of 300 children turned that village into a mausoleum. A thousand years from now people will say, “Beslan, the place where all those children died.” So who do we turn too? Can anybody help in the face of such a dreadful thing? It doesn’t seem like it does it? The sorrow is so deep God seems absent.

Psalm 77, written in the Iron Age more than 2,500 years ago, stares straight in the face of some unspeakable horror that occurred to Israel. “Will the Lord cast off for ever?” the Psalmist asks. “And will he be favorable no more? Is his mercy clean gone forever? Doth his promise fail forever more? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? And I said, this is my infirmity.”

Who do we turn to when things are unexplainably painful? God? How can we when even he seems to be absent? My friends. I am not asking this question the Bible is. The Psalmist in essence is saying that there is no consolation, not even in God, when your soul has been torn from you. But even in great despair something faithful is happening. Even when we cry out “God is not there” we reveal our deep desire for God.

John Donne experienced his own Gethsemane. Donne was a 17th century poet, who experienced great pain. Because he married the daughter of a disapproving lord, he was fired from his job as assistant to the Lord Chancellor, yanked from his wife, and locked in a dungeon. (This is when he wrote that succinct line of despair, “John Donne/ Anne Donne/ Undone.”) Later, he endured a long illness, which sapped his strength almost to the point of death. In the midst of this illness, Donne wrote a series of devotions on suffering which rank among the most poignant meditations on the subject. In one of these, he considers a parallel: The sickness, which keeps him in bed, forces him to think about his spiritual condition. Suffering gets our attention; it forces us to look to God, when otherwise we would just as well ignore Him.

That’s it. Suffering gets our attention. Suffering forces us to look toward one another; forces us to ask the deeper questions about life; forces us to turn toward God. Even if it is to express our displeasure and despair, we turn to Him and in those pleas we display our faith in Him.

II

The first question is: Who do we turn to? The second is: What are we to do? The answer here is obvious. We are to pray. When Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane he went there for one reason, to pray. Why are you sleeping, Jesus asked his disciples. Get up and pray! Prayer prepares the soul for suffering. Jesus understood what lie ahead and he knew that prayer was the only way to prepare them.

Prayer does two things for us. It helps us cope with hardship. There is a story about a missionary family in Pakistan who lost their 6-month-old baby. A wise man in the area heard of their grief and came to comfort them. He said, “A tragedy like this is similar to being plunged into boiling water. If you are an egg, your affliction will make you hard-boiled and unresponsive. If you are a potato, you will emerge soft and pliable, resilient and adaptable.” It may sound funny to God, but there have been times when I have prayed, “O Lord, let me be a potato.”

Prayer helps us cope with hardship and then, here’s the second thing, it guides away from temptation. Notice that Jesus told his disciples to pray so “you will not fall into temptation.” Now that’s odd. You would expect Jesus to say, pray that you are able to endure the hardship to come. But hardship brings temptation: Temptation to compromise our principles, temptation to pursue pleasure over adversity, temptation to renounce our faith in God. Peter, James and John quickly learned this lesson as they denied that they knew Jesus. They left the scene of his betrayal afraid for their own lives. They did not pray so they did not stay.

Prayer helps us cope with life’s hardships and it keeps us from temptation. But here is one more thing you can do. Pray for the families of all those who have suffered at the hands of terrorist these past few years. Today, September 11, 2009, we remember the horrible events of 911. We shall never forget that day. And, I don’t think there is a parent today who doesn’t grieve for those Russian parents either. Both tragedies are horribly linked in our psyche. Terrorism continues to tear at our world. I would like to see the church in every country rise up an army of prayer soldiers to pray for the defeat of this evil. Those who suffer need our prayer but Christians must also go on the offensive and pray God’s kingdom come His will be done. The world is dealing with a cult of death the church must offer a culture of life.

III

First question: Who do we turn to? Answer: God, even in our despair. Second question: What do we do? Answer: Pray to cope. Pray against temptation. Pray for one another. And pray for the Kingdom to come. Third question: Where do we go from here? Answer? Well this one is a little more complicated. The answer isn’t easy because life isn’t. When Jesus left Gethsemane he went to Golgotha. At times we all seem to be running from the garden of despair to the hill of suffering.

Look at the stories of the bible. At some time or another there has been a Gethsemane for all God’s people. For Abraham it was when he was asked to sacrifice his only son. For Joseph it was those unjust years in jail. Paul had any number of Gethsemanes in his experience; he once listed the number of times he had been stoned, whipped, robbed and shipwrecked. The following is from the poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, entitled “Gethsemane”:

Down shadowy lanes, across strange streams
Bridged over by our broken dreams;
Behind the misty caps of years,
Beyond the great salt fount of tears,
The garden lies. Strive as you may,
You cannot miss it in your way.
All paths that have been, or shall be,
Pass somewhere through Gethsemane.
All those who journey, soon or late,
Must pass within the garden’s gate;
Must kneel alone in darkness there,
And battle with some fierce despair.
God pity those who cannot say,
‘Not mine but thine,’ who only pray,
‘Let this cup pass,’ and cannot see
The purpose in Gethsemane.

It would be dishonest to say that God makes everything all right in this world. The death of 3000 innocent souls who were simply going to work on September 11, eight years ago, tells me the world is crowded with Gethsemanes. The death of 4500+ soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan tells me that peace has an enormous price. The burial of 350 children in Beslan tells me that evil still wins in this world. Don’t get me wrong. I as much as any man find hope in the resurrection. I am simply cannot deny the picture painted by the Psalmist when he asks, “Will the Lord cast off for ever?” And will he be favorable no more? Is his mercy clean gone forever? Doth his promise fail forever more? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? And I said, this is my infirmity.”

So the answer to the third question? Where do we go from here? Perhaps Wilcox’s poem has it right: All paths that have been, or shall be, pass somewhere through Gethsemane. Amen.

sunset

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