Lessons from Eiffel’s Tower

This past summer, my wife and I with our two children took the trip of a lifetime. With the help of
a farewell gift from New Life Christian Reformed Church (where I was Senior Pastor for 16 years),
we went on a three-week trip to Europe from late June until mid-July. This was my first ever trip to
Europe. We flew from Chicago to Amsterdam and traveled by Eurorail to Berlin, Geneva and Paris.

There was a little business (trip to the Free University in Amsterdam – special thanks to Kees and
Margeriet Vander Kooi) and a great deal of learning. For example, we visited the Anne Frank House,
the home of Corrie Ten Boom, the Jewish Museum in Berlin as well as Sachsenhausen – a W.W. II
Labor Camp. Sachsenhausen was where Protestant Pastor Martin Neimoller was imprisoned. I saw
his cell. Pastor Neimoller later wrote these haunting words –

“First they came for the Socialist, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

We also had the opportunity to tour the port town of Medemblik (my relatives were either poor spellers
or there were multiple ways to spell our surname) as well as Driesum, Friesland (where my father grew
up) and Kornhorn, Groningen (where my mother grew up). It was helpful to see where my parents
grew up as it was one way to appreciate their journey and even who they still are as people. Whether it
is the roots of Nazism and Jewish persecution or my family background – history is important.

Buildings have a history as well. A building that is seen as a central image – a defining image – in
Paris is the Eiffel Tower. It wasn’t always that way.

I like to read books that connect with my travels. During our trip to Europe, I read Eiffel’s Tower by
Jill Jones and The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough. Both books note the
overwhelming resistance that Gustave Eiffel faced in proposing and building what is now known as the
Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World Exhibition which was also the centennial
celebration of the French Revolution of 1789.

On February 14, not three weeks into the digging of the foundations, 47 of France’s most famous
and powerful artists and intellectuals signed an angry protest letter addressed to Paris officials
and published in the local papers. The letter lamented the “soulless vulgarity of such an industrial
behemoth, this dizzily ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a black and gigantic factory, chimney,
crushing [all] beneath its barbarous mass.” (Jones, p. 26) Forty-seven persons opposed to one person’s
vision.

There are various lessons I take from this episode in time:
1. Experts can be wrong.
2. Innovators and introducers will face opposition. Expect it.
3. Persistence and patience are needed for any project.
4. Immediate reactions may not stand the test of time.
(Many “expert” opponents later apologized to Eiffel.)
5. Perspective takes time.

As I stood atop the Eiffel Tower (after a three hour wait), I was glad that Gustave Eiffel continued with
his project despite the protests of the powerful. I also wondered what impressions or opinions I hold
that will not stand the test of time. The study of history helps keep you humble before God and others.

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