The Origins of the Protestant Reformation

Woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder portraying the pope selling indulgences, circa 1521

Woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder portraying the pope selling indulgences, circa 1521

Can you recall the first time you learned about the Protestant Reformation? In all likelihood, you were told a story somewhat like this. On October 31, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a piece of paper to the door of a church that stated his complaints with Roman Catholicism. This began the splitting of Western Christianity into two primary groups: Catholics and Protestants. Regardless of where you grew up and what form of religion your family practiced, the issue was almost certainly presented in this manner.

Most people today will never progress beyond that extremely limited and largely misleading version of events, nor will they come to realize the vast ways in which their own lives have been affected by the Reformation. Nearly 500 years later, if we are to truly understand what happened on that October day, we must go back in time and consider the events leading up to that period. Continue reading

My Reaction to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

President-Elect Donald Trump meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016. White House Photo by Pete Souza.

President-Elect Donald Trump meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016. White House Photo by Pete Souza.

 

Dear Friends: The following contains some genuine political opinions, and while it is not meant to be an attack on anyone or anything, if you have simply had enough of political discussion (here I commiserate with you), consider yourself warned. The second half of the article is more important than the first.

On November 8, 2016, I swore that I would pay as little attention to the election returns as possible, that I would watch none of the television coverage, and that I would go to bed early and sleep through it. I accomplished all of those things but the third one. At approximately 2:00 a.m. EST, I awoke and my mind immediately went to that all-important question: “Who is my president going to be?” I looked at my phone, for I knew I would never go back to sleep otherwise, and saw the following two notifications.

12:14 a.m. Dayton Daily News – “Early election results send Dow futures, global stocks plunging”

1:50 a.m. New York Times – “Donald Trump has won Pennsylvania, all but assuring that he will be the next president of the United States” Continue reading

The Traitors in my Family

Traitor's Gate at the Tower of London (Author photo)

Traitor’s Gate at the Tower of London (Author photo)

 

In this week just after Guy Fawkes Day, when the entirety of the American populace stands ready to go at each other with torch and pitchfork, it seems most appropriate that I should make known to you the traitors among my own family. Most infamous treasons have they committed, worthy of remembrance. But if you came here for gossip regarding my next of kin, you must stand in disappointment, for I speak not of the woman who bore me thirty years ago today but those through whom I was born many centuries ago.

In researching my family history, I have found not one, not two, not even three, but six undoubted scoundrels of the highest degree executed for treason against king and country. And yes, I do mean king and country, for though my more immediate relatives have spent these past four centuries upon the shores of America – a fact that in and of itself marks them as traitors in the eyes of the British – my more distant ancestors lived in western Europe, and the greatest majority of those in what is now the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They did indeed live under the rule of kings and queens: in fact, some of them were kings and queens.

Amid this long history of ancestors, I will now make known to you those unfortunate souls who were cut down in the prime of life for their real or alleged treason against the state. Thank God they passed on their DNA before they passed from this world! I will note from the outset that these are only those who were “convicted” and executed, not all those suspected of or accused of treason, nor those killed in battle: that would be a much, much longer list. Continue reading

Revising (and Reviving) History through Fiction

Photo by Flickr user History Books

Photo by Flickr user History Books

 

“History takes a long time for us to reach.”

That rather obvious statement was made by a former president of the United States, George W. Bush, when reflecting upon his legacy. While some sneered that his B.A. in history from Yale University meant little, this was not the only time that Bush proved he had learned a little something about the topic. He told Brian Williams in 2006, “There’s no such thing as short-term history, as far as I’m concerned.” He also famously said, “History. We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.” (In Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward)

While it is possible to view these quotes as simple explanations of a basic fact of human existence – time adds upon time adds upon time – or as an attempt to avoid responsibility, Bush was actually getting at something profoundly true. While we may view history as that most unchanging of all things, forever frozen in place, experience suggests otherwise. Continue reading

Impossible Questions

"Job Confessing His Presumption to God Who Answers from the Whirlwind" by William Blake, circa 1803-05

“Job Confessing His Presumption to God Who Answers from the Whirlwind” by William Blake, circa 1803-05

This is the last in a series of seven essays on the topic of reconciliation. Links to the previous articles can be found at the bottom of this page.

There are three questions in Scripture that, despite their apparent simplicity, strike at the very heart of who we are and reveal our position before the Creator. As each one is placed before us, we are forced to address the pride in our hearts and reconsider our notions of justice, for there are some questions that demand action simply by being asked. Most surprising of all is how these three seem, upon careful consideration, to actually be the same question. Continue reading

The First Step

The "Huntsman's Leap" chasm in Wales, as photographed by Colin Park.

The “Huntsman’s Leap” chasm in Wales, as photographed by Colin Park.

This is the sixth in a series of seven articles on the topic of reconciliation for Easter 2016. Links to the previous articles can be found at the bottom of this page.

The study of international relations is often focused around intractable conflicts, and while there are any number of disagreements that could stake a claim to being the longest lasting or most deeply entrenched, the one that seems to take the cake in the minds of Americans is the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians. As feuds go, this one is actually a latecomer on the historical scene. Yes, there are some who link it back to the tension between the two sons of Abraham – Isaac and Ishmael – but from a political standpoint it started in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Jewish immigrants began moving to the region of Palestine.

Despite the best intentions of a long line of political figures, things have been going downhill ever since that point. Animosities have grown to where they are now an intrinsic part of national and ethnic identity. Numerous wars have been fought, and even the periods of so-called peace have been quite violent. Attempts at a negotiated settlement have yielded little but failure. As I write, the dispute is at its worst level in some time, with the politicians refusing to even meet and talk about peace unless changes are made.

In his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, the acclaimed New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman compared the two peoples to a husband and wife who are unable to get pregnant. A fertility specialist finally concludes that the reason for their failure begins with the fact that neither of them actually wants to have a child. The meaning is that Israel and Palestine don’t really want a peace deal, because any such agreement would require them to make concessions that they are unwilling to risk, even forcing them to admit to wrongdoing. Protracted conflict is preferable to a deal that forces them to sacrifice pride and place themselves on the same level of moral “rightness” as their enemy. (It could also be argued that having a foreign enemy to oppose can be helpful to political leaders, but I digress…) Continue reading

The Age of Sacrifice

Modern Islamic animal sacrifice. Photo by Wikipedia user Ramzy Muliawan

Modern Islamic animal sacrifice. Photo by Wikipedia user Ramzy Muliawan

This is the fifth in a series of seven articles on the topic of reconciliation for Easter 2016. Links to the previous articles can be found at the bottom of this page.

What does it feel like to sacrifice the thing you love the most?  Mercifully, many of us can only imagine.  We have not yet been asked to bear such a burden.  For others, the moment has already come.  Whether it is a loved one, a fortune, or life itself, all of us may ultimately be forced to surrender that which we hold most dear.

When we speak of sacrifices and altars, we often think of the Old Testament and life under the Law.  They made sacrifices for sin.  They burned things on altars.  The blood flowed across the stone floor. The smell of charred flesh filled the very air. So the endless parade of death carried on year after year, for such was the ugliness of that era. Such is the ugliness of sin.

Then came the annual Day of Atonement – “Yom Kippur”, the holiest date in the Jewish calendar. As outlined in Leviticus 16, the high priest would first make an offering for his own sin. Then and only then would he enter into the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, where he would enter the very presence of God. Here the high priest would make another offering on behalf of the entire nation – a sacrifice for forgiveness of sin. This was necessary in order to satisfy the wrath of a holy God, and to make atonement between God and man. Continue reading

The Cross of Hate

Michaelangelo's famed Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. (Author photograph)

Michaelangelo’s famed Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. (Author photograph)

This is the fourth in a series of seven essays on the topic of reconciliation for Easter 2016. Links to previous articles can be found at the bottom of this page.

In the cross of Christ, the love of God is most apparent. For what more can a person give for another beyond their very life, or what more could they suffer than the ultimate agony of death on a cross? Yes, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) A thousand hymns proclaim to us the love of God, and rightly so, for He loves us beyond measure.

Yet, we must not be satisfied with this explanation alone, for the cross was not only an act of love. The cross is equally a symbol of God’s hate. We do not always see hate in Christ’s actions that day, His words offering forgiveness to His enemies and His last breaths dedicated to helping others. That the world hated Christ is not difficult to accept, but what of the hate of Christ Himself? Have we made ourselves blind to this? Continue reading

A Scriptural Imperative

A 15th century Bible in the possession of the former Malmesbury Abbey in England. Photo by Adrian Pingstone

A 15th century Bible in the possession of the former Malmesbury Abbey in England. Photo by Adrian Pingstone

This if the third in a series of seven essays on the topic of reconciliation for Easter 2016. Links to the previous articles can be found at the bottom of the page.

Do you know which book is the most cheerful in scripture? It’s Revelation. Yes, Revelation: the book that talks about oceans of blood, terrifying beasts, firestorms, demonic torture, and the complete destruction of the world as we know it. This book full of the stuff of nightmares is meant to cheer us up.

If you don’t believe me, try flipping past the trumpet judgments, bowl judgments, the bit about Armageddon, the final destiny of the devil, and the eternal condemnation of most of mankind. You should be at chapter 21 now. This is where things start looking up. Continue reading

Discord

Wikipedia photo from HiveHarbingerCOM

Wikipedia photo from HiveHarbingerCOM

This is the second in a series of seven essays on the topic of reconciliation for Easter 2016. View the first essay here.

Discord is the great problem of this world, and like all problems, it demands a solution. Being a lover of words, it seems most appropriate that I should draw your attention to the roots of that word, “discord”. It is composed of two elements. The first is the prefix, “dis-” coming to us from Latin. It means “apart” or “asunder”. The second is “-cord”, which comes from “cors” – heart. Therefore, discord means drawing hearts apart and ripping them asunder.

The word “cord” tends to suggest something different to English speakers: a strong thread, cable, tie, rope, or other device used to hold things together. We use it to tie a Christmas tree to the top of our car, to keep bungee jumpers from falling to a painful death, and to make ridiculously large screens hover in midair above a football field. But there is another kind of cord that I would like us to consider. Continue reading