Theologian of the Cross

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The Supremacy of God in the Life of the Mind

Posted by theologianofthecross on February 12, 2007

In this address given at Northwestern College (here excerpted; full text here), John Piper exhorts the students and faculty of the college to make God and His glory the active and chief end of academics and the center and focus of all the pursuits of their minds.

I come to you today with a burden for the supremacy of God in the life of the mind. I speak to you as people who are called for a season of your life to engage in the work of the mind. I speak to students and faculty and administration concerning this tremendously crucial matter, because I believe it’s your calling in this community to cultivate in each other the ability and the habit and the desire to read with understanding, and think with accuracy, and observe with discernment, and research with thoroughness, and evaluate with fairness, and memorize with discipline, and write with clarity, and speak with cogency, and perform with excellence, and hate what is evil, and love what is good, and feel with fitting passions all the beauty and goodness and truth of our great God and his amazing world.

I sense that in the humanities and the natural sciences and social sciences and the arts God and his Word are often taken for granted. If someone queries why concrete Biblical truth is not more explicitly wrestled with in relation to the tenets of literature or sociology or history or economics or psychology or speech or math or chemistry or physics or theater or physical education or political science—if someone queries why the Biblical vision of reality has such a low profile, the answer is too often, “We take that for granted. That’s our working assumption while we deal with the world of contemporary thought and practice. That’s the foundation on which we build.”

What I want to say this morning is that God does not like to be taken for granted. God does not want to be a silent assumption. Speaking of God as the foundation for the life of the mind is a wholly inadequate metaphor. That he is! O, yes, and a great and deep and unshakable foundation he is. But foundations are invisible, and are seldom thought about in the daily life of the house. They are taken for granted. They are silently assumed.

But God wills not only to be the massive, silent, unseen foundation beneath the walls of our academic lives; he also wills to be the visible cap stone adorning the top and the brightness of the glory that fills the house for all to see.

I want to plead with you this morning–students and faculty and administration—that you not imprison God in the silent basement of your busy academic houses by taking him for granted and calling him merely the Foundation for your labor.

There is a more radical, more pervasive way that God wills to be honored in your academic work. I call it the supremacy of God in the life of the mind.

[Piper considers the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh in Exodus 8–10]

So we can see that God wills for his power to be known and marveled at not just in Israel and not just among the Egyptians, but in all the earth. God is jealous for his reputation in all the universe—that he be known and celebrated as central and supreme everywhere.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

God wants the to world know not only his power, but also his Creator rights over all the earth—over every discipline in the academy and over every sphere of culture: he owns everything. This is not a doctrine he wants tucked away in a book, not a silent assumption, but a daily conscious sense that controls the way we handle all things and all truth.

God does not like to be taken for granted. God wills to be central and supreme and celebrated in all of life, including the life of the mind.

I think what I am pleading for here is very hard for people to grasp because our age is so utterly and thoroughly God-ignoring, which is probably worse than God-despising. We get all worked up when Hugh Downs puts people like James Dobson in the same category with Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan because they all claimed Christian sanction for their “family values” crusades. But we swallow hook line and sinker the utter absence of God as normal. Aggression against God offends us: but omission of God escapes us.

We get anesthetized to the unspeakable and appalling insult rendered to God day in and day out by his being ignored. It starts to feel normal—the way its normal not to think about air or a solid earth under our feet.

But I fear that we preachers are a great part of the problem. The absence of God’s supremacy is not unique to academia or the media. Albert Einstein gave a devastating indictment of preaching fifty years ago that may be more true today. Charles Misner, a scientific specialist in general relativity theory, was quoted like this:

[The design of the universe] is very magnificent and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religion, although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what the preachers said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing.

When God is taken for granted, and functions as a silent assumption, while we talk about other good things, his majesty is abased and his glory is obscured and his supremacy in the life of the mind vanishes. And people may well say, “I wonder if they have seen the real thing.”

May it not be said of any course at Northwestern College, that the students and the faculty in state universities have seen more mystery, or more wonder, or more majesty than we have seen—we who know the One from whom and through whom and for whom all things exist and hold together.

I am not pleading for anything superficial—just another prayer at the beginning of class, just another Bible verse quoted. I am pleading for the deep, earnest, thorough engagement with God and his Word and his Ways at every level of research and analysis and interpretation and reflection and creation. All things—every academic discipline—were made by God and for God. His fingerprints are everywhere. The main meaning of all things derives from their relation to God. Not to seek that meaning with all our heart and mind and soul is to be superficial, no matter what grades we make, no matter what articles we publish.

My closing prayer: may the supremacy of God in the life of the mind be the title over this academic chapter of your life.


Posted in education, glory of God, John Piper | Leave a Comment »

Affirmative Action in the Church? Kind of.

Posted by theologianofthecross on January 26, 2007

I have been surprised to learn from an online article today that Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota—John Piper’s church—practices a kind of affirmative action when hiring ministerial staff. I was taken aback at first; however, reasoning behind this policy is interesting.

* Probing: We search for candidates for pastors and elders who are from various ethnicities. We pursue the web of relationships that we have. We make the positions known on the web and in other ways. We write articles like this one. Etc.

* Preferring: We intentionally take ethnicity into account when making choices about who we will call to the pastoral staff and eldership. This is the most controversial. It has been labeled “affirmative action” or “racial preferences.” Here is how it works at Bethlehem and why we make decisions this way.

One guiding principle is this: To the degree that one of the aims of an organization is to experience and display racial diversity, to that degree the intentional consideration of race in hiring is warranted. If, for example, the sole aim of an organization is productive efficiency, it would be unwarranted for the hiring guidelines to contain racial preferences. Whether all the employees are Black or Asian or White or Latino or Native is irrelevant. All that matters is maximum efficiency. So you don’t consider race in hiring. The only thing you consider is competencies that maximize efficiency.

But if one of the stated aims of an organization is to experience and display the beauty of ethnic harmony in diversity, then it would be reasonable and warranted to consider race as part of the qualifications in hiring. An obvious example would be hiring actors for a dramatic production that has Black, Asian, Latino, and White roles. One would consider race essential in the actors one hires for each role. One would not say: Competency in acting is the only thing that matters, and then use makeup to create the impression of race. Of course, acting competency matters. But so does race. That’s part of what the play is about. Hence, it is reasonable and warranted to take ethnicity into account when hiring actors.

Over ten years ago, we at Bethlehem set ourselves on a trajectory of intentional ethnic diversity. It coheres with the emphasis on “the joy of all peoples” in our mission statement: We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. But we did not make it easy for ourselves. It would be easy if we said, “Diversity is the top priority that outweighs all others.” Or: “Diversity at any cost.” But there are things more important than ethnic diversity. For example, in hiring pastoral staff or choosing elders, there are theological and philosophical and personal commitments that are more important that ethnicity.

What are the biblical and theological grounds for such a practice? Piper explains:

We realize that this kind of intentionality in seeking staff is controversial. Some would say, “Never consider ethnicity in hiring. Always be color blind and focus only on competencies, doctrine, and faith.” Here is the problem we see with that. Most people look at the ethnic diversity in the New Testament church and admire what they see. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

It is right to admire this diversity for many reasons:

1. It illustrates more clearly the truth that God created people of all races and ethnicities in his on image (Genesis 1:27).
2. It displays more visibly the truth that Jesus is not a tribal deity but is the Lord of all races, nations, and ethnicities.
3. It demonstrates more clearly the blood-bought destiny of the church to be “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
4. It exhibits more compellingly the aim and power of the cross of Christ to “reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:16).
5. It expresses more forcefully the work of the Spirit to unite us in Christ. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Posted in church, John Piper, racial diversity | Leave a Comment »

Richard Dawkins, Religious Atheist

Posted by theologianofthecross on January 24, 2007

In a recent edition of The New York Review of Books, H. Allen Orr, an evolutionary biologist who is Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester, has written a review of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. In it, Orr reveals Dawkins to be a “religious” athiest who, being convinced that religion is dangerous, is (ironically) out to proselytize his views and “convert” people to athiesm. Ultimately, Dawkins fails to take religion seriously enough to confront any serious religious arguments and so mostly just beats up on caricatures of religion, straw men of his own construction.

As you may have noticed, Dawkins when discussing religion is, in effect, a blunt instrument, one that has a hard time distinguishing Unitarians from abortion clinic bombers. What may be less obvious is that, on questions of God, Dawkins cannot abide much dissent, especially from fellow scientists (and especially from fellow evolutionary biologists). Indeed Dawkins is fond of imputing ulterior motives to those “Neville Chamberlain School” scientists not willing to go as far as he in his war on religion: he suggests that they’re guilty of disingenuousness, playing politics, and lusting after the large prizes awarded by the Templeton Foundation to scientists sympathetic to religion.[2] The only motive Dawkins doesn’t seem to take seriously is that some scientists genuinely disagree with him.

Despite my admiration for much of Dawkins’s work, I’m afraid that I’m among those scientists who must part company with him here. Indeed, The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur. I don’t pretend to know whether there’s more to the world than meets the eye and, for all I know, Dawkins’s general conclusion is right. But his book makes a far from convincing case.
The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkins’s failure to engage religious thought in any serious way. This is, obviously, an odd thing to say about a book-length investigation into God. But the problem reflects Dawkins’s cavalier attitude about the quality of religious thinking. Dawkins tends to dismiss simple expressions of belief as base superstition. Having no patience with the faith of fundamentalists, he also tends to dismiss more sophisticated expressions of belief as sophistry (he cannot, for instance, tolerate the meticulous reasoning of theologians). But if simple religion is barbaric (and thus unworthy of serious thought) and sophisticated religion is logic-chopping (and thus equally unworthy of serious thought), the ineluctable conclusion is that all religion is unworthy of serious thought.

The result is The God Delusion, a book that never squarely faces its opponents. You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology in Dawkins’s book (does he know Augustine rejected biblical literalism in the early fifth century?), no attempt to follow philosophical debates about the nature of religious propositions (are they like ordinary claims about everyday matters?), no effort to appreciate the complex history of interaction between the Church and science (does he know the Church had an important part in the rise of non-Aristotelian science?), and no attempt to understand even the simplest of religious attitudes (does Dawkins really believe, as he says, that Christians should be thrilled to learn they’re terminally ill?).

Instead, Dawkins has written a book that’s distinctly, even defiantly, middlebrow. Dawkins’s intellectual universe appears populated by the likes of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Carl Sagan, the science popularizer,[3] both of whom he cites repeatedly. This is a different group from thinkers like William James and Ludwig Wittgenstein—both of whom lived after Darwin, both of whom struggled with the question of belief, and both of whom had more to say about religion than Adams and Sagan. Dawkins spends much time on what can only be described as intellectual banalities: “Did Jesus have a human father, or was his mother a virgin at the time of his birth? Whether or not there is enough surviving evidence to decide it, this is still a strictly scientific question.”

. . . . . . . . . .

One reason for the lack of extended argument in The God Delusion is clear: Dawkins doesn’t seem very good at it. Indeed he suffers from several problems when attempting to reason philosophically. The most obvious is that he has a preordained set of conclusions at which he’s determined to arrive. Consequently, Dawkins uses any argument, however feeble, that seems to get him there and the merit of various arguments appears judged largely by where they lead.

Posted in evolution, Richard Dawkins, science | Leave a Comment »

The Authority of Scripture

Posted by theologianofthecross on January 20, 2007

In this excerpt (taken from here) from a sermon of his on Ephesians 6:14 ("Stand therefore having your loins girt about with truth"), Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899–1981), a great English, Reformed preacher, indicts the church for having gotten away from the doctrine of the authority of the Bible. He challenges the church and individual Christians to return to this fundamentally-important doctrine.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that all the troubles in the Church to-day, and most of the troubles in the world, are due to a departure from the authority of the Bible. And, alas, it was the Church herself that led in the so-called Higher Criticism that came from Germany just over a hundred years ago. Human philosophy took the place of revelation, man’s opinions were exalted and Church leaders talked about ‘the advance of knowledge and science’, and ‘the assured results’ of such knowledge. The Bible then became a book just like any other book, out-of-date in certain respects, wrong in other respects, and so on. It was no longer a book on which you could rely implicitly.

There is no question at all that the falling away, even in Church attendance, in this country is the direct consequence of the Higher Criticism. The man in the street says, ‘What do these Christians know? It is only their opinion, they are just perpetrating something that the real thinkers and scientists have long since seen through and have stopped considering’. Such is the attitude of the man in the street! He does not listen any longer, he has lost all interest. The whole situation is one of drift; and very largely, I say, it is the direct and immediate outcome of the doubt that has been cast by the Church herself upon her only real authority. Men’s opinions have taken the place of God’s truth, and the people in their need are turning to the cults, and are listening to any false authority that offers itself to them.

We all therefore have to face this ultimate and final question: Do we accept the Bible as the Word of God, as the sole authority in all matters of faith and practice, or do we not? Is the whole of my thinking governed by Scripture, or do I come with my reason and pick and choose out of Scripture and sit in judgment upon it, putting myself and modern knowledge forward as the ultimate standard and authority? The issue is crystal clear. Do I accept Scripture as a revelation from God, or do I trust to speculation, human knowledge, human learning, human understanding and human reasons Or, putting it still more simply, Do I pin my faith to, and subject all my thinking to, what I read in the Bible? Or do I defer to modern knowledge, to modern learning, to what people think today, to what we know at this present time which was not known in the past? It is inevitable that we occupy one or the other of those two positions.

The Protestant position, as was the position of the early Church in the first centuries, is that the Bible is the Word of God. Not that it ‘contains’ it, but that it is the Word of God, uniquely inspired and inerrant. The Protestant Reformers believed not only that the Bible contained the revelation of God’s truth to men, but that God safeguarded the truth by controlling the men who wrote it by the Holy Spirit, and that He kept them from error and from blemishes and from anything that was wrong. That is the traditional Protestant position, and the moment we abandon it we have already started on the road that leads back to one of the false authorities, and probably ultimately to Rome itself. In the last analysis it is the only alternative.

People will have authority; and they are right in so thinking. They need authority because they are bewildered; and if they do not find it in the right way they will take it in the wrong way. They can be persuaded even though they do not know the source of the authority; in their utter bewilderment they are ready to be persuaded by any authoritative statement. So that it comes to this, that we are back exactly where Christians were 400 years ago. The world talks about its advance in knowledge, its science, and so on, but actually we are going round in cycles, and we are back exactly where Christians were 400 years ago. We are having to fight once more the whole battle of the Protestant Reformation. It is either this Book, or else it is ultimately the authority of the Church of Rome and her ‘tradition’! That was the great issue at the Protestant Reformation. It was because of what they found in the Bible that those men stood up against, and queried and questioned and finally condemned the Church of Rome. It was that alone that enabled Luther to stand, just one man, defying all those twelve centuries of tradition. ‘I can do no other’ he says, because of what he had found in the Bible. He could see that Rome was wrong. It did not matter that he was alone, and that all the big battalions were against him. He had the authority of the Word of God, and he judged the Church and her tradition and all else by this external authority.

We are back again in that exact position, and I am concerned about the matter, not only from the standpoint of the Church in general, but also from the standpoint of our own individual experiences. How can we fight the devil? How can we know how we are to live? How can we answer the things we hear, the things we read, and all the subtle suggestions of the devil? Where can I find this truth that I must gird on, as I put on all this armour of God? Where can I find it if I cannot find it in the Bible? Either my foundation is one of sand that gives way beneath my feet, and I do not know where I am, or else I stand on what W. E. Gladstone called ‘The Impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture’.

J. I. Packer, in his essay Hermeneutics and Biblical Authority, emphasizes the (divine) authority of the Bible over the beliefs and practices of the individual believer.

Evangelicals hold that the obedience of both the Christian individually, and the Church corporately, consists precisely in conscious submission, both intellectual and ethical, to the teaching of Holy Scripture, as interpreted by itself and applied by the Spirit . . . . Subjection to the rule of Christ involves – indeed, from one standpoint, consists in subjection to the rule of Scripture. His authority is its, and its is His.

Similarly, he says,

It is hardly possible to deny that what God says is true, any more than it is possible to deny that what He commands is binding. Scripture is thus authoritative as a standard of belief no less than of behaviour, and its authority in both realms, that of fact as well as that of obligation, is divine. By virtue of its inspiration the authority of Scripture resolves into, not the historical, ethical, or religious expertise of its human authors, however great this may be thought to have been, but the truthfulness and the moral claim of the speaking, preaching, teaching God Himself.

Posted in Bible, Biblical authority, J. I. Packer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones | 1 Comment »

The Believer’s Delight in the Beauty of Divine Things

Posted by theologianofthecross on January 16, 2007

The joy, and spiritual delight and pleasure of the saints has its first foundation not in any consideration or conception of their interest in divine things; but it primarily consists in the sweet entertainment their minds have in the view of contemplation of the divine and holy beauty of these things, as they are in themselves.

And this is indeed the very main difference between the joy of the hypocrite, and the joy of the true saint. The former rejoices in himself; self is the first foundation of his joy: the latter rejoices in God. The hypocrite has his mind pleased and delighted, in the first place, with his own privilege, and the happiness which he supposes he has attained to, or shall attain to.

True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures: it is the joy of their joy. This sweet and ravishing entertainment they have in the view of the beautiful and delightful nature of divine things, is the foundation of the joy that they have afterwards, in the consideration of their being theirs. But the dependence of the affections of hypocrites is in a contrary order: they first rejoice and are elevated with it, that they are made so much of by God; and then on that ground he seems, in a sort, lovely to them.

The first foundation of the delight a true saint has in God, is his own perfection; and the first foundation of the delight he has in Christ, is his own beauty; he appears in himself the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely. The way of salvation by Christ is a delightful way to him, for the sweet and admirable manifestations of the divine perfections in it: the holy doctrines of the gospel, by which God is exalted and man abased, holiness honored and promoted, and sin greatly disgraced and discouraged, and free and sovereign love manifested, are glorious doctrines in his eyes, and sweet to his taste, prior to any conception of his interest in these things.

Indeed the saints rejoice in their interest in God, and that Christ is theirs: and so they have great reason, but this is not the first spring of their joy. They first rejoice in God as glorious and excellent in himself, and then secondarily rejoice in it, that so glorious a God is theirs.—They first have their hearts filled with sweetness, from the view of Christ’s excellency, and the excellency of his grace and the beauty of the way of salvation by him, and then they have a secondary joy in that so excellent a Savior, and such excellent grace are theirs.

From Jonathan Edwards. Religious Affections. Edited by John E. Smith. Volume 2 Works (Yale, 1959), 249-50.

Posted in historical theology, Jonathan Edwards, theology | Leave a Comment »

Back in Cambridge

Posted by theologianofthecross on January 16, 2007

After more than a month of travelling throughout Europe, I am now back in Cambridge, where I shall resume my studies. Second term (named Lent Term) begins Thursday, Jan. 18. Until then, I’m preparing for term, reading, reviewing Greek grammar and vocabulary, slowly unpacking, and hanging out with my friends.

I am particularly excited about one of my supervisions this term: Paul’s Letters.

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Istanbul, Turkey

Posted by theologianofthecross on January 9, 2007

I am now in Istanbul, Turkey. I arrived this morning at about 8:30, having taken an overnight train from Alexandropolis, Greece. Although I (with my three fellow travelling companions) have spent some time walking through the city, lost, I have been able to visit the Hagia Sophia.

Sunday, I visited Delphi, Greece, and saw the ruins of ancient Delphi, where the Temple of Apollo and the famous oracle of Delphi were located. Before that, I stayed in Athens for three nights, where I saw the Acropolis and the ancient agora. In addition, I took a daytrip from Athens to Mycenae, where I explored the capital of the ancient Mycenaean civilization (c. 1600-c. 1100 B.C.).

Tonight at 10:00 (GMT +8), I leave Istanbul and Turkey by train for Transylvania, Romania (a region, not a city).

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Rome, Day 3

Posted by theologianofthecross on December 31, 2006

On my first day in Rome, I visited the following sites: Pantheon, Palatine Hill, Colesseum, Trevi Fountain, and part of the Forum. Yesterday, I went to Vatican City, where I toured the Sistine Chapel, explored all the other Vatican museums, and toured and attended evening mass at St. Peter’s. It has all been awesome. However, I shall have to describe it in detail later, for now, I must go. Today, I am planning to visit the Spanish Steps and some of the catacombs.

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Europe, Round 2

Posted by theologianofthecross on December 28, 2006

After spending a relaxing week at home in the States, I’m now back in Europe, through which I’ll be travelling until Jan. 16. I’m now in Rome, where I will stay until Jan. 1. The current plan is to go to Greece after leaving Rome. I’m uber-excited about getting to visit the lands of the classical world (especially in light of my classical humanities minor)!

While home, I was able to finish reading Sproul’s The Holiness of God and also began-and-nearly-finished reading J.I. Packer’s Knowing God (I left it at home intentionally, since I only wanted to bring one extra-biblical book with me, and since I wanted to bring something that would last me the entire trip). And so, besides my Bible, I’ve brought with me an abridged version of Augustine’s City of God, which I’ve been wanting to read for quite some time.

Knowing God was an amazing book, and I would wish that every Christian might read it. The book consists of a number of essays on various aspects of God’s character, what it means to know God, and how Christianity and Biblical truths should manifest themselves in the personal piety of Christians.

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European Travels: Krakow, Poland

Posted by theologianofthecross on December 14, 2006

Taking a train from Prague, I arrived in Krakow, Poland this evening with my friend David Wiegert. We walked around the city center—which is absolutely beautiful—for awhile before we found our hostel, Mama’s Hostel. It’s highly recommended and is actually supposed to be the third best hostel in the world. In fact, though, it only costs $12.00 (US) per night. (Hostels are amazing.) Tomorrow looks to be an amazing day of exploration in Krakow.

My European travels began on Dec. 4, when I flew into Berlin from Stansted Airport, London. I flew with three of my friends (also Jewell students studying abroad in England). In Berlin, we met up with two fellow friends (also Jewell students studying abroad in England). We spent three days in Berlin. Next, we traveled to Wittenburg, Germany, the city where Martin Luther lived, taught, and from which he initiated the German Reformation. It was incredible and it has been my favorite place so far. In fact, in Wittenburg, we stayed in a hostel located in Wittenburg Castle—the very castle to which Luther nailed his famous Ninety-Five Theses! We also saw Luther’s house, the City Church, and Philip Melanchthon’s house. What a privilege it was to experience the world of those great men! Then, we traveled to Wartburg, Germany. In Wartburg, we toured Wartburg Castle, where Luther hid out for about a year in the early 1520s. There, he wrote many important works, including his translation of the Bible from Greek into German.

Next, we went to Dachau and toured the WWII Nazi concentration camp there. After that, we rode a train over night from Munich to Prague, Czech Republic. Prague has been my least favorite place, being dirty, ugly, and crowded. After a few days in prague, we rode the train to Krakow, where I am now and where I shall stay until I fly out of Krakow to London (and from there to Kansas City) on the evening of the 16th.

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