The McAlvany Weekly Commentary
with David McAlvany and Kevin Orrick
Kevin: Today we have a very special and important show for you. First we’ll discuss how the metals markets have broken through key triggers. We see gold this week in the $1300s. And you know, for the first portion of the show today we are going to have our numismatist of 35 years with us again, Drew Crowell. Drew is here to keep us up to date with those key triggers in the precious metals markets, and to highlight some of the strategic movements that we have seen, and actually, to let us know what to expect from here.
Now, geopolitically, instability continues to be on the rise, especially with the North Korean missile that that flew over Japan earlier this week. This ties very closely to the reason for the second portion of today’s show. After we talk to Drew, we’ll be talking to David and Mary Catherine, his wife, and they will be discussing the importance of learning from the mistakes of history. The two of them will join the Commentary from Germany to discuss the importance of intentional travel.
As fallible people, it is crucial that we learn about the mistakes that we have made in the past that are taught by history, so that we hopefully can avoid many of those mistakes as we move forward. We see a dictator again. This time it is in North Korea, with a lack of care for human life, recklessly threatening millions of lives. It is not that unlike some of the history that happened in Germany, and David and Mary Catherine were experiencing some of the history of that and have observed some of that history.
But before we get further into today’s show, we really must mention the tragedy of tropical storm Harvey, and the destruction it has caused. Our fervent prayers go out to those affected by the storm. I know we have a lot of listeners down there, and people who have worked with us in the past. We know that many are seeking shelter, those without homes, and the brave men and women who are working to help others in the region. And we invite and encourage our listeners to pray for those in the path of the devastating storm. Drew, you were on your way this week to buy products, to get some of the coins that we work with here. You were on your way down to Houston before this tragedy happened.
Drew: You know, Kevin, I was. And as you can imagine, all those plans have been put on hold. And I know that by now our listeners are not surprised by some of these updated numbers, but I thought that they were worth repeating. I heard this morning that there has been over 56,000 911 calls that have been answered and responded to. I mean, just the scope of that. 20,000 people have been rescued either from their homes or neighborhoods and relocated by first responders there. In fact, Kevin, they have 7,000 people currently living in the convention center, just for shelter. There are relief organizations coming from everywhere, arriving to help feed this group of people. They have committed to stay afterward. But we learned from Katrina – this is not weeks or months, this will be years in repair.
Kevin: Yes, it’s the rebuilding of the infrastructure. Right now the critical thing is to save people. Rebuilding is going to take a lot of time, a lot of resources.
Drew: Well, we’ve just never seen anything like it. This sets an all-time record for rainfall in the continental United States and I think when it crossed over 49 inches and they are supposed to even have more – historic numbers.
Kevin: We certainly do remember you folks down there, and our prayers are with you. You know, Drew, a lot has happened in the last few weeks, to the metals markets. We have had geopolitical triggers, we have moving average triggers that you have talked about a couple of times, the last few times that our clients have actually heard you speak. You were pointing out last year about this time that the 65-week moving average had turned up for the first time in four years.
You made predictions from that point, not because you are a prophet, but the 65-week moving average actually does a lot of the math for you. We did a second show, a show last fall, letting people know that the turn had come in. Then you wanted to come back this spring, and you said that again. For those who want to hear those two reports, give us a call, we can send you those if you want to go back and check our work.
Drew, the 65-week moving average continues to move. Gold has broken out into the 1300s. And actually, no one, really, at this office, watches that more closely than you because you have to take in inventory, and you have to be able to give good advice. So give us some of your thoughts right now.
Drew: Kevin, it’s really important as you look at gold as an investment, you really want to make as wise a timing choice as you can. It certainly feels better to buy gold when it’s less expensive than when it’s more expensive. And certainly for our psychology that’s important. But let’s just regroup. Let’s just go back a little ways and see what the performance of some of these markets has been. If we go back to the beginning of 2016, which is roughly 20 months ago, gold has risen almost 26%. During that same time silver has outperformed gold even. It’s up between 30-31%. And the thing that I would like to point out is something that is working in the opposite direction – the U.S. dollar.
Kevin: Oh, the dollar has been plunging. In fact, I think I read this morning from our friend, Bill King, that it is hitting a 32-month low, so contrary to what a lot of people thought, when Trump came into office, there was the thought that the dollar was going to just go through the roof relative to other currencies. That really has not happened.
David: It hasn’t happened at all. Over that same period of time the dollar is down 7%. It rose a little bit from there. But if we just look at the last eight months, Kevin, and we look at the dollar’s performance, it is actually down 10.5% over just those eight months. And during that same period of time gold has been up 17%. So that is quite a difference. Silver has been up 12%. So we are really seeing the inverse relationship between gold and the dollar.
Kevin: Let me just mention something, too, Drew, because a lot of times when a person says, “Well, what do you mean by the dollar being down?” The dollar is down relative to other currencies. It may actually be down more relative to, say, inflation. We were talking about it before, a lot of people think we don’t have inflation because that is what the Federal Reserve would like you to think right now. They talk about not meeting their 2% target. Well, obviously, they don’t buy insurance. Obviously, they don’t buy food. Obviously, they don’t buy the things we do. We know there is inflation.
Drew: They certainly don’t have children in college (laughs).
Kevin: (laughs) But take all that out of the equation, the inflation that we have experienced – inflation always has a place where it hides. Remember when you get a cold and somebody would say, “Oh, well, it’s nesting there. You’ve got that cold there.” Well, inflation – we’ve seen inflation in real estate in the past, we’ve seen inflation in tech stocks in the past, but right now we’re really seeing it in the overall financial markets. With the Dow hitting all-time highs, that is printed money. That is not growth in the economy that is causing that. Gold is counteracting that inflation, strangely enough, even without us seeing the dollar, necessarily, collapse.
Drew: It certainly exposing it, and so what we’re talking about is, money will find a place to be. And when you’re creating money out of nothing, like we’ve been doing for decades now, and the debt that continues to spiral and escalate, to the point where the debt has now exceeded our GDP – it is 103% of our GDP. And Kevin, we tell people things like this, like no country in the history of the world has ever recovered from that tipping point, has never come back from that.
But what gold is doing on a regular basis is just letting us see, kind of in a reverse mirror way, that as the purchasing power of the dollar continues to diminish, the purchasing power of an ounce of gold continues to rise. And so when you ask me about what are the tipping points, or what are the chart points, and that kind of thing, what we are seeing right now is a convergence of a number of different indicators telling us that gold is doing its thing again.
Kevin: So we have re-entered, as you brought out last year, the bull market in gold. We took about a four or five-year break from it but it certainly didn’t kill the bull market. You know, Drew, I want to bring this up because you had a chance to see the buying patterns of Americans directly. You go to Europe for a lot of our inventory, you go around the world. But actually, we see premiums on especially the older coins go up and down based on the buying patterns of Americans. Now, we know from the U.S. Mint’s numbers, that American buying of gold after the Trump win, and probably silver, as well, dropped.
In fact, I know for gold, the U.S. Mint said that it dropped by half. It was half as much as last year, yet we see gold going up. We see China, India, Turkey, Russia – they’re buying more gold than any time in history. They’re buying everything that is mined. So we see in the East the buying of gold. Yet here in America there is sort of a slumber state. People seem to just be sleeping right now. And premiums are hitting lows that we really haven’t seen since 2001.
Drew: That’s absolutely right. And sometimes it isn’t what is happening today as much as it is the perception of what is going to happen tomorrow. So when you mention the election, I think that there was a perception that things were going to be more calm, or more organized, or a better environment for the economic and social well-being of America. And so the heightened alert, so to speak, that would bring people into the gold market was diminished considerably. But since the last number of months have gone by, it has become apparent that no one person can fix this. We’ve gotten into a situation where things well beyond the control of a person, a Congress, a group of people, are going to fix our problems.
Kevin: You were talking about debt-to-GDP alone. Trump is not going to be able to come in and fix that. There is really no person, ever, that could have done that.
Drew: That’s absolutely right. And gold is just letting us know that there it sits. We have encouraged people for so many years – it’s not the price of gold that is terribly relevant, it’s the purchasing power of gold, ultimately, that matters.
Kevin: Right. And no one has ever gone broke owning an ounce of gold, whereas with paper assets you have to be pretty vigilant or you can end up losing everything at times.
Drew: Well, Kevin, there is also this misconception that I can buy gold any time I want. Let me just remind our listeners of one pertinent fact. There is less than three-quarters of one ounce of gold per person on this planet. So you just can’t, in a crisis, just step up and buy whatever amount of gold you want. So we’ve been trying to encourage people to prepare for the future.
Kevin: I’ve been on the other side of the fence, Drew. You and I have had pretty strong discussions in the past, and I’ve had clients who were calling and wanting to buy gold – I think of 2008, I think of times in the 1990s, but I especially think of 1989-ish, where people were lined up to buy what we had, and we didn’t have anything to offer, and you were looking diligently to try to find something for our clients. So you’re exactly right. The difference between buying a paper contract of gold which outnumbers the physical gold by about 500-to-1 at times, is very different than actually owning the physical product. In the long run, isn’t it better always to own the physical?
Drew: Absolutely. Let me just bring up one final point in our consideration of gold. There is an opportunity right now, Kevin, that doesn’t happen very often. You mentioned 2001, and I’d just like to address what we’re looking at now in 2017. We’re on the back end of a four-year retracement in gold, which discouraged buyers from coming into the market.
Over that period of time, because there were less buyers and more sellers, we’ll say, the premiums, or the value of certain coins, have diminished relative to the price of gold. So we’re looking at something that is not historically without precedent, but there has only been one other time in my memory, and I’ve been at this since about 1970, and that was 2000-2001, where this sort of opportunity presented itself to investors.
Kevin: Right. It’s a great time to buy because I remember those who bought in 2001. They thought, “Wow, it’s amazing, we bought coins that had collectable value, at almost regular bullion melt prices.” And that’s sort of what is happening at this point.
Drew: It’s a double play, Kevin. It’s not only buying gold at a depressed price, which we are because it’s been in a four-year retracement, but we are also buying it at reduced and compressed premiums. So when you get the gold price moving up and the premium price, or the premiums expanding, you really do have a remarkable return on your investment.
Kevin: Well, Drew, before I move on to Dave and Mary Catherine, let me just ask you – the 65-week moving average has been making very, very accurate predictions as to where gold will go. Now, we try not to get into the prediction business on this show, but we have gone into the $1300s at this point. We’ve clearly broken the resistance there. I know, as we have private meetings here in the office, oftentimes you will tell us the next level to look for. And I think you had mentioned to us that we’re looking for the high $1300s on this move before the next correction down. And the next correction down probably won’t take us much below $1325. Is that correct?
Drew: It is. In all my study of the 65-week moving average, it really is not sooth-saying, Kevin, it is more math than anything else. So if the 65-week moving average is going to continue it’s up trend, then certain numbers have to come about in that average.
Kevin: To keep it intact.
Drew: Well, to keep it moving up.
Drew: So within four weeks, just given the math, four to five weeks, we should see gold between $1375 and $1390. Now, we may get a breather after that, but any major up move has usually two parts. We’re seeing the first part now, re-testing the old high, cyclically, of $1375-$1390. The second thrust in this particular gold move will take us to new highs, maybe the $1450-$1475 area, something north of $1390.
Kevin: Right. And you say new highs, we’re talking about from the short run. In the long run, you expect…
Drew: Cyclical highs.
Kevin: Exactly. So, going further than a cyclical. You are also one of those who believes that we will take out the old high high which was over $1900, at some point.
Drew: Yes. Once the 65-week moving average turned back up for the first time in over four years, it was a dead giveaway that it was going to go set new highs. I’m just giving you some interim numbers to be looking for, but ultimately, the old high of $1930 will be taken out.
Kevin: Thank you for the update, Drew. We’ll continue to bring you on at various points so that we can discuss the gold market directly.
Now we go to Germany, where David McAlvany invites his wife to discuss intentional life as a family. David and his family are in Germany. They are there for the 500-year anniversary of Martin Luther and the Reformation. There, they talk about the critical importance of looking at the past and learning from it. We see around the world today a desire to disengage with history. We’re seeing the destruction of monuments, statues of the past evils. Instead of confronting them, what we are doing is just turning away from them, and we need to be learning the key lessons from them, and actually, probably not tearing them down so that we can continue to discuss the true history, and what we’re proud of and what we’re ashamed of. We go there now.
David: Last week and this week, these are different kinds of commentaries. We were in Germany; we still are in Germany. A part of what we try to do with the Commentary each week is create context, and have context. This is the first time I’ve invited you, Mary Catherine, to be a guest on the Commentary, and I’m excited to discuss with you what we have been doing, where we have been, and how this fits in for us. Purposeful travel might be the category. Maybe it fits more broadly into what we discuss as an intentional life as a family.
Let’s dive in on that. You curated this trip, so from beginning to end, what were some of the ideas you had in mind? I think of this, reflecting back to a time when you were working at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, looking at art curatorial work as a potential lifelong endeavor. This was a trip that you curated, a set of experiences that you helped curate for our family. Tell us a little bit about that.
Mary Catherine: Thanks for having me, Dave. This is quite the experience. I am passionate about curation. I’m passionate about history. I always have been. This was such a great opportunity for me to put together and bridge places in our study of history since we home school. This offered us this great opportunity to say, “Okay, we learned about these places throughout history. We learned about Roman history. Now let’s go visit the Roman ruins in Germany, of all places, and really understand that context. Let’s look at Medieval history that we studied in Germany and go visit some of those places.
That was so fun for me to think, “Okay, so we have two weeks. What can we do? How do we make this memorable for the children? How do we bring history to life, and teach them a worldview along the way? We went to visit some Martin Luther sites, so how do we talk about Martin Luther? We went to visit the former German Democratic Republic. How do we approach that? We’re visiting the wall. How do we talk to the kids about that? This was so fun, just a great opportunity for that.
David: Right. You mentioned Roman history and Trier has the largest Roman baths. They were at one time the largest Roman baths, and outside of Rome, this was the largest Roman city in the world.
Mary Catherine: That’s right, it was considered the second Rome. It was that large.
David: Well, stories can tell us about the importance of story. How do you think of that?
Mary Catherine: I studied Philosophy in college, and one of the philosophers I was very interested in was named Paul Ricœur. He was a French philosopher. And he talked a lot about story, and how story is a community event. I think about oral traditions, how we pass down stories, and about how the Jewish people have always been a people of the book, a people of the story, a people of the passed- down word, and how important that has been to their culture to preserve individual stories.
And I think the same applies to us today. Our stories are communal in that we need other people to help us tell our stories. We tell our stories to our children so that when we are older they help us tell our own stories back to us, lest we forget them, or we need their help to tell those stories to others.
David: It becomes a part of identity.
Mary Catherine: It becomes a complete part of identity. It becomes a part of our family identity. What I love is that we have been very intentional, and I feel like in this case, we have created dinners where we have decided that we would stay in villas and small apartments and little houses here and there, where we could fix our own meals in the evenings and in the mornings, so that over breakfast and over dinner we have this great opportunity to share stories. We love to hear the stories that grandparents have to tell us, so we invite David’s parents to share their personal stories with the kids. That has been very important on this trip – setting a stage where stories can be shared and remembered amongst our family.
David: We went to Buchenwald, which was a really interesting experience with an 11-year-old, an 8-year-old, a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old.
Mary Catherine: Right.
David: And these are different kinds of stories, not just the stories of the people that we were with, but also stories of the places that we went, and stories of people that we will never know, but lives that were shattered by different historical events and characters. And that, too, is important for us, to create a context for our kids to look at books, and see them as a little bit of a keyhole, taking you into a world and giving you access to a world that you might not have otherwise. And to make that three-dimensional, to bring it to life. There is a face to evil, and there is a face to good.
I asked our oldest what he thought about going to Buchenwald, going to Wittenberg, and comparing the two. It was interesting. He said, “There are these two people who have changed the world. Luther changed the world. Hitler changed the world.” Here we are 500 years later celebrating Luther’s life, his contribution – far from a perfect individual. And I think all of our kids are very aware of our own imperfections, perhaps not so much theirs, but perhaps theirs, too.
And they realize that none of us are perfect. But we can learn. We can learn from the things that people do right, we can learn from their mistakes, and it is an imperative for us to learn from the life of Luther, the life of Hitler, the lives of people who have gone before us, and sort out the good and the bad. There are lasting effects. We see some of those effects.
It is interesting, we also had conversations on this trip about what it means to forget, and what it means to erase chapters in history, and how sometimes it is easier for people to set aside something that is difficult, that they don’t like, and pretend that it never happened, that it doesn’t exist. Whether it is their own personal story, or even a national narrative, and there is controversy here about some statues that we went to and looked at – Marx and Engels – and they may take them down in the next few years. And this was a really interesting conversation because, for us, we want to learn from history so that we don’t repeat it, borrowing from Santayana.
There are certain aspects of history we do not want to repeat, and it is very important that we do learn from the mistakes that have been made. And yet there is something that is kind of neat and tidy about that approach to history that says, “If we don’t like it, if it is offensive, let’s get rid of it,” versus, “Let’s have a dialogue about it. Let’s discuss it. Let’s tear it to pieces.” Buchenwald was not easy.
Mary Catherine: In thinking and preparing to take the children there, I had the two older children, who are 11 and 8, read Corrie Ten Boom’s, A Hiding Place. I had Declan read that one. And Daschel read a firsthand account – I can’t remember the man’s name, but it was a firsthand account written for children called, I Survived the NAZI Death Camps. It was written for upper elementary and middle school age. I really wanted them to have that, because it is such a dark and solemn experience to walk into a concentration camp and realize what happens there, the depths of evil that humans can create.
So really, I wasn’t sure how much Tess and Davin were going to get out of it because they are so young, but I really wanted to touch the hearts of my older boys because they are at the age where their hearts are open in that way. And I started with books because books are so powerful. And then being there, Declan was walking around and he said, “Mom, why do they even have to have places like this? Why do they have places like this?” And I said, “Well, I know it’s hard to be here, but it is so important to remember. They have this here because there are so many people who died here that are nameless – we don’t even have their names – it’s powerful to remember that humans did this to other humans, and that it can be repeated again, and that we have the power within us for good and for evil, and we need to be people who choose the good, and choose to do the right thing even it means ourselves losing our lives.”
And that was a great opportunity for us to bring up the fact that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been at this camp, and that Elie Wiesel had been at this camp. In fact, there were priests who had been crucified upside down at this camp for standing up against Hitler and saying that what he was doing was wrong. It was a great conversation, a spiritual conversation, that I got to have with my children, that it is okay to do something difficult, and to stand up for what is right even if it means that you may lose your life. That was hard and heavy, but it was a really good experience.
It was interesting reading about the Engels and Marx statue that there was this controversy that you should get your picture there soon because it might be torn down. And I thought, “That’s really sad that we’re so scared of something. We’re scared of the influence that a statue might have on people to do wrong,” instead of saying, “Well, how can we use this statue to teach people to do right?”
David: One of the things that is really important for me in that is, we have a son who is coming of age, and moving from being an older boy to being a young man. And for him to begin to see the choices that he can make in life and where that might lead him, and to see the world from as broad a perspective as possible, but to also see that choices have consequences. Good choices have good consequences. Bad choices have bad consequences.
That ties into, again, the themes of what we talked about with Luther, and with Hitler, and again, what kind of a mark would you want to have on the world? Sometimes we go through life in a very selfish way saying, “What is going to bring me the greatest pleasure? Where am I going to exist with the greatest amount of hedonic reward?” But it’s not particularly meaningful. Here are two people who left a lasting impact – one, ridiculously evil; the other, remarkably good. Again, in the context of coming of age, I just want him, and I want all of our kids to see, that what they choose matters. It matters.
Mary Catherine: It does matter.
David: So they’re not playing some two-bit part in history. They may play a very significant part in history. They can be world changers, and we want them to think about the world they live in, and about their lives, about their gifts and talents, and choose wisely, and maybe that’s the aspiration of every parent. For us, purposeful travel ends up being an expression of training toward that end.
Mary Catherine: I’m passionate about purposeful travel, and I really want to encourage grandparents and parents, and aunts and uncles, and even friends of the family that might be traveling with the family, to create purposeful moments where you can share glimpses of what can be with each other, to be able to share with our children how important their ideas are, and that all ideas have consequences, and that all choices have consequences. That is powerful in itself. But then for them to see that lived out in other people that we meet along the way, other people’s stories, that’s where it takes on tremendous power, I feel like, and it can inspire them and can train them.
David: It is interesting you mention that because a few years ago I took the boys to Normandy, the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. A place where so many people had died. We were there, and to watch the kids on the beach, to watch them run around the hills, there was a certain redemptive feeling to it, almost like, yes, this place which we remember as a place of death, let us not forget what occurred, but let us also look ahead and see that there life and redemption, and that is what we must choose. And they perfectly embody that. There is an innocence and a joy, and we certainly want them to appreciate the past, but boldly, and with vision, look at something that, in their future, is better and different.
So art is something that has always been of interest to you. Do you want to say something?
Mary Catherine: I thought about doing a Ph.D. in Art History, and when I began to think about, “What would I do my Ph.D. on? What would I write on? What would I do an actual exhibit on? I would be the curator for an exhibit, and what would that exhibit be? What would the theme be?” I started thinking about art of confinement, the art that comes out of times of confinement, whether that be in a prison – I started thinking of all these different examples. When Native Americans were taken, back in the 1800s, they would create art about their experiences while they were in the prisons or jails. They would create art on whatever they could find. That just, to me, was incredibly powerful.
I got that sense at Buchenwald, too, that here these people are creating these beautiful things out of their need to express their humanity, express their creativity – that there is so much healing that is in that. Just in the act of creating and the act of putting something beautiful out there – that is healing in itself, and freeing in many cases. It can actually free your mind. I thought, “This would be a really interesting project and scope to look at because of how vast it could be and how many different cultures and how many different areas throughout the world I might be able to come up with.”
David: Did your interest in the art of confinement tie at all to your experience with your friend in Southern California of Japanese descent, who was blind? Her father was an artist.
Mary Catherine: Yes. Helen Fukuhara. I started reading for her. She was through the Braille Institute in California. She needed someone to read for her and I volunteered and we got to be good friends. And her father had been in one of the Japanese internment camps in California, and was a listed Japanese-American watercolor artist – still is. I remember, she was an artist. She has been blind her whole life. She makes these beautiful watercolors and collages. It’s a different kind of confinement. She is confined by her sight. Her art is beautiful, but then to see her father’s art, too, he actually would take people in tours back to the confinement camps and then set up en plein air painting exercises for the people to go back and visit the ruins of these internment camps.
And in that way, it was redemptive, because he is going back to this place where he was interned, but he is also creating art from it, and teaching others through it. He was a believer in Jesus, and he passed that down to his daughter – she was believer. And so just to see that forgiveness that he experienced toward those who put him into the internment camp, but also that he wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again. But then also to see the art that can come out of it. It was really inspiring to me in my early 20s.
David: We traveled through Weimar. Being in the gold business for almost 50 years, one of the stories that I was raised with was the tragedy in the currency world between 1919 and 1924, where after the Treaty of Versailles the Germans were not able to borrow from the international community. They distributed as many bonds as they could, borrowed as much as they could from their own people, and when that was done then they were forced to print money. The consequences of that money-printing from 1919 to 1924 ended up being catastrophic, not only for the Germans, but ultimately setting the stage for a real resentment of the rest of the world, and a desire to re-assert and see re-ignited the old Germany.
And you have this appeal to nationalism and one of the earlier Reichs, with the rise of the Third Reich. And what was set in motion there in Weimar, as we were driving through Weimar, I’m thinking to myself, “This is it. These decisions were made here. The people whose great-grandchildren are living here today – their grandparents, their parents – there are remnants of that history still felt.
And again, stories are something that bring it to life, because it’s one thing to think about hyper-inflation, what was experienced in Germany during that timeframe, from the standpoint of percentage increases in inflation per year, to say, for a loaf of bread it might have cost you 500 million, a billion, three billion, five billion German marks – that really doesn’t mean much, honestly.
But to encounter people, and to know their stories, and what their life was like in the midst of that, having to remortgage a house three times, having a debt that was owed to them of 100,000 marks, a real large debt in 1918 where they were the community banker, and have that debt paid off with a chicken. Those kinds of stories, again, bring history to life. And that is, for us, what the curatorial process is in the midst of travel, to say, where do we engage history? Are these dry bones? Are these dry words on a page? Or do they come to life with place, with people, with our own personal experiences?
Mary Catherine: I think it begins with inquisitiveness. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in history to make a place come to life for your children, or for your grandchildren, or for your nieces and nephews. I’ve started thinking about people listening to this program thinking, “I just want to go on vacation and just go sit on the beach in Florida and just relax.” (laughs)
David: This was not a relaxing vacation.
Mary Catherine: No, this was not a relaxing vacation. This was definitely a trip that was a tour. I would say it was a tour. But I started thinking, “How would I present different parts of Florida to my kids if I was going to go sit on the beach?” And I started thinking, “There is so much history here. There is Native American history here, which was very different than the Native American history of the West. And then there are the Spanish explorers, and the Spanish history that happened in Florida. And the pirates and the gold. There is so much that can happen there – all about the missionaries that came.
There is so much that can come to life over the dinner table, over the breakfast table, while you’re driving in a car, while you’re walking down the road, while you’re sitting on a beach, while you’re building sand castles. I think it’s really easy just to start with being inquisitive about a place, have conversations about why is this important? What ideas informed what happened here? These are questions to ask and to talk about with your kids. And then to start bringing in your own history in your own family. Maybe you have roots there. Maybe your family passed through there. There is just so much that can happen when you travel. It doesn’t have to be, like I said, this big tour. Just start with being inquisitive and enjoy it.
David: What actually inspired the trip originally was just coming for the 500-year anniversary of Luther. My mom and I read a book on Luther. It was a fabulous book. It looked at the political history and what was changing in the timeframe, and why Germany wanted to push back against the Holy Roman Empire. Fascinating to see that reflected in some of the presentations that we saw on Luther where almost everyone has tried to borrow Luther and use him for a particular purpose. Even the Third Reich used him, saying, “Here’s a German nationalist.” But everybody borrowed him. Everybody said, “Hey, he’s our guy.” And they tried to define him and weave him into their history as a legitimizer of their history.
Is there anything that surprised you? We came here for Luther. Is there anything that you learned that was unique or different than you might have expected?
Mary Catherine: I think that was the most interesting, how people used him for their own propaganda. It is a little frightening, actually, if you think about just living your life and then hundreds of years later someone decides to use your life for their own propaganda. It’s actually a little frightening. By the way, Wartburg Castle is where Luther translated the New Testament into the German language in 11 weeks. Amazing.
But you can go through this castle, and they had a great exhibit on him. They tried to present all sides of him, good and bad, but the whole idea of them using him for propaganda, all the way back to the Second Reich – how the Second Reich used him, how the Third Reich used him, how the Soviets used him – fascinating how he could be used in so many different ways. That was eye opening to me because I had not read anything about that.
David: Right. It’s a little bit like hermeneutics applied to the life story of a person. How do you interpret what this life represents, and borrow or steal for your own purposes?
Mary Catherine: Right.
David: So, again, it’s one of those things where it’s important for me to walk with you and our kids through that and see that we need a careful reading of history. We need a careful reading of any of these things. We need to be very careful and make sure we actually get it. Fascinating to look at current events. We have an election coming up here in just the next few weeks. Probably nothing will change. People are afraid of what might change if Merkel doesn’t come back in. We get to have that conversation tonight over dinner.
But now it’s with greater context. A woman who grew up in the DDR, the Deutsche Democratic Republic, and did her Ph.D. in Chemistry, and grew up in the ranks. They have some appreciation and understanding for what the educational process was, what the culture was, how families existed in the DDR in East Germany, and maybe what she has as a set of influences. I’m not saying bad influences, but just life experience. But we get to have, again, a conversation about current German politics with a vast amount of historical context. And they will always have that context from this point forward, for the rest of their lives.