Finishing Strong

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us                                                                                                                                                                                            Hebrews 12:1

Since I am a baseball guy, I have this image of a baseball player, maybe an aging outfielder playing what may be his last game. He knows it, maybe others do too, maybe they don’t. But he is on the field on October 1, the last day of the long season. His team is hopelessly out of the playoffs, and have been for weeks. The game he is playing has no value for either team, both just playing out the string. It is late in the game, his team down by four runs in the eighth inning, and fans, the few that showed up, have mostly long abandoned this contest.

The pitcher winds up and delivers a ball that the batter sends screaming on an arcing line toward the outfield. Runners on first and second move with the hit as it appears to be well out of fielding reach. Our aging outfielder responds immediately, tracking the ball as it soars into the outfield gap, headed for extra bases. He does not give up on it. He tracks it toward the wall, leaps at the ball and makes contact with the ball and the wall at the same time. He crashes down, the ball in his glove. He manages to right himself, and throw the ball into the cut-off man who completes the double play on the stunned runner who had occupied first base.   

The game, that season, are essentially meaningless, and those around him have essentially given up on it. The fans had mostly left, and the game meant nothing in the standings, yet he poured himself out on the last play of his last game ever.

This is the scenario I think about when I think about effort- effort to the end. The aging fielder is doing his very best to the very end, no matter what others thought about the meaning of it. It meant everything to him.

That dear readers, is how I want to go out. How about you?

Prayer: Lord, help us to finish strong, doing the right thing for the right reasons, Amen.

Owning Responsibility

for each one should carry their own load…                                                                                                                    Galatians 6:5

In talking with a client recently, we discussed the values he learned from his mother about responsibility. I had commended this client for his willingness and ability to recognize and own his part in some disputes with his wife. He told me that his mother had taught him that when he was in some trouble at school or in the neighborhood, she did not automatically rush to his defense whether he was right or wrong. Rather, she had him explain the situation and examine his part in whatever problem had been encountered. He explained that he felt that his deep sense of personal responsibility stemmed from her valuable teaching.

That mom taught her son some important life lessons. We always need to examine our part in any relational problem and take responsibility for that. It is not a matter of trying to shift blame, nor accept blame inappropriately. It is simply a good exercise in the personal ownership of relational issues. We all own a part. It is important to accept what that is, and work toward our own self awareness and responsibility for maintaining healthy relationships.

I never met this client’s mom, and I never will, but I like her thinking.

Prayer: Help us Lord to see that we honor you and others when we recognize our own failures or mistakes, Amen.

“Normalcy”

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.                                                                                             Psalm 118:24 (KJV)

In 1920, Warren Harding ran for President with the slogan “Return to Normalcy”. No one really knew what that meant, because it meant something different to everyone. The country had been through a devastating World War, the “Spanish Flu” Pandemic, the “Red Scare” fallout of the Russian Revolution, and heaven knows what other terrible disasters that had recently beset the country.

That “return to normalcy” concept was ridiculed by many, but the truth was, everyone wanted a return to normal after all that had happened. Harding was elected in a landslide. People wanted to forget those terrible years and find diversions and that wonderful “normal” that had been   missing. Hello Roaring 20’s!

Today, we feel much the same way. The COVID-19 crisis looks like it is starting to abate, vaccinations are in the pipeline and, increasingly, in arms. The political turmoil is still here, but the volume is much lower, and the economy seems ready to take off as restrictions are slowly lifted. Yes, we yearn for return to normal.

Isn’t it interesting that it always takes disasters for us to appreciate “normal”? Maybe we can learn to appreciate everyday life- our jobs, our families, our friends, indeed our health, even without the threat of something that disrupts them.

Let’s just enjoy the day we live in, and thank God for “normal” every day.

Prayer: Lord, we forget so easily that normal is such a blessing, Amen

Pain Into Gain

You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending…                C.S. Lewis

But Joseph told them, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, to judge and punish you?As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil, for he brought me to this high position I have today so that I could save the lives of many people.                                                                                                             Genesis 50:19-20 (Living Bible)

Context is important in understanding mental health difficulties.  We are not condemned to live out past trauma as our ending fate. Many of my clients have suffered from very difficult, even traumatic developmental circumstances, yet they are very often overcomers. I find it important to remind these clients that they are not just survivors of trauma, they are “thrivers” because of it. If our mindset is that we are not defined by pain and abuse, then we can translate personal pain into someone else’s gain and thereby redeem that pain or evil from the past.

So many clients find it gratifying that someone can see their growth, and remind them that their identity is as an overcomer, indeed, a “thriver”.

We often do not always know where people have come from and what they have suffered. We can affirm to them that they have a future as an overcomer and a thriver, and that they are not defined by a hurtful past.  

Prayer: Thank you Lord for your grace to overcome pain and loss and redeem it for your glory, Amen.

Limiting God

Since you have been chosen by God who has given you this new kind of life, and because of his deep love and concern for you, you should practice tenderhearted mercy and kindness to others. Colossians 3:12 (Living Bible)

A few days ago, I wrote about how God had chosen to limit himself when he created human beings. He chose to give us the free will to accept him and his grace, or we can reject that grace and proceed along doing whatever we want in life. That freedom is an amazing gift, but it also comes with responsibilities. There are consequences for the choices that we make.

At the same time, we can limit God. We can opt out of the power given to us to have great impact in the world. We do this by not recognizing or accepting that we are made in His image, and that we have his Spirit as an advocate and guide for us. We can limit him by not trusting that he loves us like he says that he does.

Often, I talk with people who say that they have a hard time believing that God cares about them or that he loves them. They feel that God is distant, or that they are unworthy of his love. We all can understand that. As we see our own fallen nature, we feel unworthy of the love of the perfect God. Yet, God’s love for us is not dependent upon our feelings. His promise stands whether or not we feel loved. Indeed, many people feel unlovable for many reasons, such as early trauma, rejections, or guilt over how they have acted toward others.

As I say often, just because we feel something does not make it true. Faith is taking God at his word, whether or not we understand it. Grace is unmerited favor, so do not try to understand that concept with mere logic. Just accept the love God has for you. If we don’t, we have limited God’s best for us.

Prayer: Thank you for your amazing love for us! Amen

Joseph Shepherd Chs. 25-28

Chapter 25

Three weeks later we were on our way to Padua, Italy. We had been able to get passage on a ship that Edwin Carr was sailing to Venice. Our group consisted of Shepherd and me, William Harvey, Ben Jonson, and Herbert Wesley, a Nonconformist leader who was a friend of William Bradford. Bradford had spoken highly of Shepherd just before he sailed with the Mayflower several months ago. Wesley was increasingly disillusioned with King James’s weak and vacillating religious sentiments, and he favored the unrestricted expression of religious thought and practice. Wesley had also become acquainted with Bacon and Jonson many years ago when he had been arrested for statements that James felt were too critical of his taxing efforts. Bacon had intervened simply because he believed that someone should not be arrested for the expression of ideas. Bacon later befriended Wesley because he liked Wesley’s fiercely independent spirit. Bacon had finally declined the invitation to go on the trip due to legal and health problems. He and all of our travelers were disappointed, but we were understanding of his situation. I was a little apprehensive about approaching Kensington to tell him that I would not be participating in his East India Company plans, at least not right away. He surprised me with his response. He had told me that I could reconsider my plans after a trip with Edwin Carr on a trading voyage. He had assured me that I would enjoy the journey, on which I could bring along my companions, and that he would assume all the costs associated with the trip. I then realized that the real reason for such generosity was the group with which I was going. William Harvey and Ben Jonson were leading thinkers of the day. Jonson was very well connected with King James as the leading masque writer of the court. Both Jonson and Harvey had the ear of the king. This did not hurt Kensington’s relationship with the crown, nor did his boast that he was funding a scientific research voyage to Italy. Further, it gave me some good feeling that I was ostensibly the reason for his generosity, that I had offered something of value to this journey. Kensington figured that my gratitude would bring me back to his plans. He wanted me as part of his circle, and he expected that my “spiritual leanings” would quickly be exhausted. The voyage itself was peaceful, and very enjoyable. Carr was a superb sailing man, and his mastery of the ship and crew contrasted with the chaos of my most recent voyage. More importantly, the conversations with Shepherd and Wesley were completely fascinating. All these men were well read, and the discussions about Galileo, Boyle, and Copernicus, and Janssen, among other great thinkers, were inspiring. Wesley was more engaged and connected with scholarship than I could ever have imagined. A voracious reader with unrestrained curiosity, he sought out new ideas at every opportunity. He was describing a meeting with Isaac Beeckman, whom he had met just last year in Utrecht. Beeckman seemed enamored with the ideas of a young man named Renee Descartes. Descartes, he suggested, will “turn the earth upside down” someday with his amazing mind and his willingness to question everything. Bacon had suggested before the trip that we make every effort to meet with him, right after we met with Galileo in Padua. “We plan to meet with Galileo?” I asked. “Yes,” said Jonson. “I have been in correspondence with him for several years. We have become friendly, due to our common friend Bacon, and I have concern about him and his troubles with the Church.” “Troubles with Papists!” countered Wesley. “Surely the Pope should stay on matters of faith, not the pursuit of science,” Wesley said with some evident rancor. Bacon would have agreed heartily, and Harvey smiled at the thought of how Bacon might have weighed in on such a thought. This idea of scientific thought independent of spiritual underpinnings was a growing cause of unrest with the intelligentsia of Europe. Few openly questioned the Church’s authority for fear of excommunication, or even an interdict on a city. Yet, the last century of religious questioning had resulted in an openness of mind in areas beyond matters of faith. It was a dangerous time, and a very exciting time for those who were willing to explore truth unbound from religious constraints. Yet most people still believed that such “truth-seeking” was merely a tool of the devil to entice man into another “Garden of Eden” pursuit of human pride. When I could tear myself away from these discussions, I spent a little time with Edwin Carr. I was curious about his relationship with Lord Kensington, as well as his reaction to his brother’s remarkable conversion. Edwin was essentially a rugged, worldly man, plenty bright, but uninterested in spiritual things. He was honest in his business dealings, highly competent as a sailor, and very forthright in expressing himself. At the same time, having an open affair with his business partner’s wife seemed to me contradictory to his good sense and moral sensibilities. Carr laughed when I gently brought up the subject of Anne. “Are you worried about Anne, me, or Kensington?” he asked. “I suppose that I am simply curious about it, and perhaps it is completely none of my business,” I said. “You are right, Dr. Greene, it is none of your business!” he laughed. “However, I will tell you about it,” he said quite amiably. “Lord Kensington has become impotent, and he does not want many people to know that, of course. Anne would not live her life without passion, and Kensington does not care much for her at this point anyway. My presence is almost reassuring to him. Anne enjoys my company, and I enjoy hers. I try not to be too intrusive or frequent in my visits, and I am a nice diversion from their fighting. The fact that Kensington has allowed you and Shepherd to know of this arrangement did strike me as unusual at first, but I came to realize that he really does seem to like you. Shepherd frightens him a bit, I must say, but he likes you. Nonetheless, I have decided to keep some distance from Anne. I see the pain it causes Andrew, and I see that Anne is using me like Andrew uses people. I suppose we all use people for our own needs.” I could certainly see Carr’s point, and saw that, indeed, that was the nature of people. Yet I saw in Shepherd, and those who were influenced by him, a change of heart. I saw Jacob Carr, Margaret, and even me, changing due to his presence in our lives. I was reassured by this conversation. Kensington would be a nice option for me should I change my mind about this new journey, and friends like him, who are well connected with the Crown, never can hurt. His moral compass notwithstanding, Edwin Carr was a fellow I could appreciate and trust. Our arrival at Venice was magnificent. The beauty of the city was breathtaking. We wound our way through a series of islands as we approached the harbor. Commerce was king in this wealthy city, but art and music flourished as well. Ships crowded the harbor, laden with tea, silk, spices, cotton, wine, and fine glassware. The harbor was a beehive of activity as dockworkers unloaded the ships, and merchants were bidding for the sales of some of the goods not already under contract. Street vendors, garbed in colorful cloaks of red, purple, yellow, and green, lined the Venice-Padua road, and the smells of bread, fish, perfume, and rotting garbage somehow blended together to make a distinctive aroma. Carr disembarked from the ship, smiled, and said, “Smells like Venice always smells!” The sights and smells were intoxicating to me, and I wanted to spend some time just experiencing the city. Jonson and Harvey, however, more widely travelled than I, were simply interested in getting to Padua to meet with Galileo. Harvey seemed interested in discussing his thoughts on the circulation of the blood. Shepherd was interested in supporting Galileo in his growing troubles with the Church regarding his defense of the Copernican theory of a heliocentric system of the known universe. However, Shepherd was strangely quiet in his anticipation of meeting with Galileo. While he respected and admired him, Shepherd seemed to be intimidated by no one, and he moved with ease among the brightest lights of the scientific and royal circles of the age. On the ride to Padua, Wesley engaged Shepherd in a conversation about the Church. Wesley’s disdain for Papal authority, and the Church’s intrusive role in scientific matters, was increasingly evident. His stridence and vigor in damning the Church seemed to interfere with his normal reasoned thinking, and Shepherd, ever the one to speak the truth, confronted Wesley on this. Harvey, always savvy and measured in his responses, smiled discretely as Wesley became flushed and defensive.  “My dear Wesley,” continued Shepherd, “do you think that the Creator of the universe can only be explained or approached in terms of blind faith?” “What do you mean?” asked Wesley. “I mean,” explained Shepherd, “that the Creator manifests himself in His creation as well as in the heart of man. Faith and science are not antithetical, but rather complementary. There must be congruence in all truth. Scientific thought and the pursuit of knowledge through the most rigorous experimentation does not preclude that God is the author of the creation. Just because we learn that the earth orbits the sun, or that blood circulates through the body pumped by the heart, or that the moon is the cause of tides on earth, or that atoms are the building blocks of all matter, it only confirms the incredible mind and power of the Creator. It does not mean that we can or should separate Him from His creation.” Shepherd had just expounded on some of the most controversial and latest thought being discussed in the world. His articulation of these theories seemed to have the conviction of knowledge, not mere speculation. I was struck by this statement, but Harvey was moved beyond words. It was as if Shepherd had not only read his mind, but he had put into words the very things he wanted to express to Galileo. This was going to be a very interesting meeting in the next day or two.

 Chapter 26

John Ward had been freed from the Tower of London on Christmas Day, 1620. He had long been an irritant of King James, and there were those who still believed that Ward was one of the men who was part of the plot engendered by Guy Fawkes in 1606 to blow up the King in a spectacular fashion. This, of course, was nonsense, since Ward was one of the dissenters who neither embraced the Catholic Church nor the Church of England. He was a Pietist who believed in the “sola scriptura” movement, fueled, interestingly, by King James’ effort at having the Bible translated into a common parlance. Now an old man of 66, Ward was not seen as a threat anymore, and King James felt that releasing him might generate some good will for his sagging reputation. Ward looked the part of an insane man, with long white hair and beard, and wide, dark eyes that seemed to penetrate to the soul. He continued to fiercely preach for faith to be separated from affairs of state, and he did not care how much he irritated the powers that be. In fact, he seemed to rather enjoy such conflicts, feeling that he could bring the wrath of God upon the evil mix of the state determining the faith matters that were highly individual in nature. A man’s personal faith was just that – personal. The King had no business in that, and, for heaven’s sake, a King had no special authority from God for his position. Indeed, the leader should be the servant of those governed. Didn’t Jesus say that he came to serve, and not be served? Was a king better than Jesus? God forbid such arrogance! King James believed that allowing Ward to be seen by his followers would burst the bubble of the image they had of him as a spiritual leader. His wild appearance, angry outbursts, and continued appeal to Scripture would be seen as the ravings they were. Kings were, without doubt, anointed by God. James, however, was wrong in his belief about John Ward. Ward was, despite his wild appearance and behavior, a formidable force among people who were hungry for some hope. John Ward had no idea that the King wanted to use him for his own purposes. Ward was convinced that his King, the God he served, wanted him for heavenly work, and therefore it made perfect sense to him that God had arranged for his release. Soon after his release, Lord Kensington saw a bit of an opportunity. Kensington was increasingly convinced that his plan for a triangular trade route that included tobacco and slaves could only flourish if King James was at least open to the import of tobacco. James had not shown any indication of that, and Kensington never liked to hedge his bets. He always wanted a sure thing. Therefore, he might benefit from the presence of the insane Ward. Kensington could offer a solution to the King. In order to solve a problem for the King, Kensington first had to create one. So Kensington arranged to give Ward a platform for his wild ideas, have people begin to respond to them, then offer the King a solution in order to curry his favor. If Ward stirred up enough dissent and anger, Kensington could find a way to permanently silence Ward. He would have no problem removing Ward if that might help the King. Kensington decided to see where this plan might lead. Kensington was well connected to people who had grievances against the King. He had been involved with the mysterious stable fire last year that allowed some mischief in London. Now he would stir things up a little more to see what the level of unrest was in London against the King. Kensington summoned Oliver Craft to his home and asked about the mood of his mob of London rabble these days. Craft was puzzled. “My people are always angry and frightened,” he said, as if this were a patently obvious statement. The street people of London were poor, addled by gin, desperate, and always ready for someone to lead them in an adventure against authority. It was the boredom and desperation of generational poverty, as well as the effect of a willingness to cling on to anyone or anything that could give some hope of a future. Yes, Craft could lead them wherever Kensington wanted. So, what did he want? Kensington laid out his idea. John Ward was someone who might appeal to people who were so desperate that they could only look to God for a solution. John Ward had the ability to appeal to people’s deep spiritual need. That also might mean that they would reject James’ “divine right” ideas. A little chaos, like in the Guy Fawkes days, might just be the best thing for his plans right now. “Understand?” asked Kensington. “Not completely,” said Craft. “But if you want angry people to gather to hear John Ward, I can do that real easy.” “Yes,” said Kensington, “that is what I want.” Ward was excited when Craft told him that he could arrange for a group of people to hear him talk about his ideas. The plan called for people to gather at the Wool Guild Hall the next Tuesday night. Craft had the dockworkers and guild members in his network of disaffected people. Indeed, the dockworkers and guild members were much better off than the townspeople who had no real source of income, but they had connections through a benevolence system that had been established many years ago. Kensington had seen the possible benefits of organizing poor and hopeless people, and had not really cared for the fact that the benevolence actually helped to sustain people in hard times. The church had long ago been in the business of giving aid to poor people. It was Kensington who saw the added “benefit” of using that help to put people on the side of the benefactor.

John Ward was in rare form as he spoke to the assembled crowd that night. He implored people to turn to Jesus alone as their savior and King. The Church of England, King James, or any other human intermediary was not only unnecessary but might even be of the devil if it separated people from attending to personal faith. Faith alone was the way to God, and that only through the atonement of Jesus. There seemed to be a stirring among people that night. Hope in the future was tied not to the institutions that had let them down, but to a saving knowledge of Jesus. He could be trusted, while man or manmade institutions could not. People began to weep and cry to God for salvation, confessing sins publicly to anyone or everyone within earshot. This was not what Craft was expecting, but he would wait and see what came of it. Perhaps anger would follow later after this ecstatic expression. The next day, Craft reported to Kensington what had transpired the night before. “I am not looking for peace!” Kensington retorted. “This is what happened?” he asked. “Yes,” replied Craft. “Not everyone responded, though. Some simply left, the same as they came,” he said, hoping to alleviate some of Kensington’s anger. Upset that his approach did not give the desired results, Kensington decided to manufacture the anger on his own. Kensington asked Craft to arrange another meeting for Ward, but this time Craft was to salt the crowd with people who were to ensure that the message of hope became a message of hate and desperation. Ward’s next meeting was larger than Craft expected. Word had spread that there was to be another meeting the next Tuesday at the Guild Hall, and those who had responded with a heartfelt conversion were joined by others who were there because they were told that there would be discussion of a new royal tax to be imposed upon wool, and that cotton was to be allowed to be imported from Egypt. The mood was tense as people assembled with very different expectations. As John Ward went before the crowd, he was completely unaware of the machinations of Craft. He was simply thankful that God had provided such an audience to which he could preach! It soon became apparent that people were restless as he spoke only of Scripture, faith in Jesus, and salvation in Jesus alone. Soon, some of the dockworkers began to ask about wool taxes and cotton imports. Ward was struck by such comments, and he responded angrily to people who would disrupt a holy time. That was all it took for Craft’s crowd plants to start shouting epithets at those who were questioning Ward. That seemed to have been the cue for a number of the dissenters to bring out clubs, and quickly order broke down.

 Soon there were several bloody heads that had been cracked open according to Craft’s plans. Chaos emerged as men began to punch one another, screams of pain punctuated the air, and order broke down completely as John Ward looked on in horror. “What has happened?” he asked plaintively to no one in particular. Within moments, Ward began to see what was happening. He realized that this burgeoning riot must be stopped immediately. He breathed a quick prayer, and suddenly got the idea that he should begin singing. His voice was strong as he began the words of Luther’s stirring hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Others began to see what he was doing, and they joined him as loudly as they could. It began to swell in the crowd, and by the second verse more people were singing than swinging at one another. Craft’s thugs continued to yell at people, and brandished clubs. However, even Craft’s dullards realized that hitting someone with a club while they are singing a hymn does not make it appear that the crowd is responding to political rhetoric. It looks like a staged riot, which indeed is what it was. Pretty soon things got calmer, and Ward led the group in another hymn. Craft’s bruisers slipped away from the rest of the crowd, and Ward resumed his time of teaching. The disturbance seemed to energize the crowd in an amazing way, as people started to claim that the presence of God was in that place. Ward led the crowd in prayer, and, after two hours of preaching, he dismissed the crowd to go home and tell others of the events of the evening. He believed that God had released him from prison for just this purpose!

 Chapter 27

As we approached Padua, I was excited to meet Galileo. Jonson, a close friend of Bacon, was telling us of Galileo’s problems with the Catholic Church. He knew that Galileo was certain that scientific thought should not be hindered by the Church’s heavy-handed squelching of new ideas. Yet his fear and respect of the Church’s position as God’s institution on earth compelled him to acquiesce to the Church’s demands to recant his ideas. Descartes, Jonson said, was in much the same position, but was more willing to publish his ideas and allow others to make the decision about where the truth may lie. Further, Descartes, despite his questioning of the Church, was with the Catholic army fighting in Bohemia against Protestant forces in the escalating war that was ravaging parts of the continent. Ferdinand II, the Holy Roman Emperor, was in the process of forcibly converting Protestant Bohemia and Austria to Catholicism. The Catholic Church, despite withering criticism and growing skepticism from leading intellectuals, was reasserting itself on the Continent as the power it had been for hundreds of years. Now the power was from military strength, and not the moral and spiritual strength that had once marked its rise as a cultural civilizing force. Shepherd was saddened by the affairs of the time. He believed that God had called him to assert the truth of God’s intervention in the life of man – that God was pleased with His children at peace with one another, and that love of creation and of his fellow man was the highest worship that one could attain to. Sadly, many did not understand this, and most believed that he was a naïve idealist. At worst, he was seen as subverting the natural way of things. Common belief was that power was to be wielded by the King and the Church on behalf of a population that was too ignorant or too sinful to approach a holy God. The idea that people would fight a war in the name of God was appalling to him. Upon meeting Galileo, I was impressed with his superior intellect. Harvey, Jonson, and Shepherd once again dominated conversation with him, and there seemed to be a common, if unstated understanding that someday, science and religion would be able to transcend petty battles for control of the minds of people. I was coming to see that God valued truth more than control, and that if He wanted to connect with His people He did not need the Church, Kings, or even scientists. He needed humility from those who were seeking that truth. Galileo seemed tired. He was enchanted with Harvey and his theories about the circulation of blood in the body, yet he seemed to have grasped that intuitively as a truth long before Shepherd and Harvey went in depth about the idea. Shepherd’s acceptance of Galileo both as a Christian and as a scientist seemed to hearten Galileo. He had never encountered someone who felt so at ease in both worlds. It reminded him, he said, of a young man he had met not long ago – a man by the name of Rene Descartes. Galileo urged us to head on to Prague, the place where he had last heard that Descartes was staying.

The revolt in Bohemia still raged, and the travel might not be entirely secure, but Galileo assured us that a visit to the University at Prague and an opportunity to meet with Descartes would be worth the travel. Galileo also asked us to give his regards to Bacon, with whom he had recently corresponded. Galileo showed concern for Bacon, telling us that perhaps Bacon was in more peril in England than we would be if we headed to Bohemia. Harvey looked concerned. “Bacon is in serious trouble?” he asked. We knew of some problems that Bacon had, but Bacon had been dismissive of the gravity of the charges against him. “Yes, I have known for some time that there are those in London who would bring him to ruin,” Galileo replied. “He is being accused falsely of bribery. Anyone who dares resist conventional thought does so at his own peril,” said Galileo resignedly. All the men agreed with this sad comment. It was true, it seemed. Only those who knew how to work with and around kings, or wealth, seemed to be able to thrive in these dangerous times. We were invited to go to the University of Padua, where Harvey was to provide a series of lectures on his theories of the circulation of the blood. Harvey invited Shepherd to lecture with him specifically about the experiment he had done on the blood of King James. The King was not mentioned as the subject of the experiment, partly out of courtesy to him, partly because few would believe the circumstances present that allowed us to perform such an experiment, and partly because of fear of reprisal from courtiers who might have lost their positions (or their life) for allowing such a practice. Whether any of these scenarios would have applied made less difference than the fact that the science of the experiment may have been lost because of whom it was performed upon. Our two weeks at the University were stimulating, and we were met with warmth and enthusiasm by the scholars there. Mostly I suspected that this was because of Harvey, but Shepherd was captivating in his continued weaving of faith and science in ways few could confute and many could not grasp. I suspected that two weeks was long enough for people to hear these new ideas, since new ideas often can generate more heat than light. While most were fascinated and appreciative, there were those who were restless, and even angry that such ideas could stand so boldly in the face of accepted concepts of ancient learning. It was Galileo who suggested that we move on to meet Descartes. He had received word through friends in Prague that Descartes was disillusioned with the war, and he was ready to leave for France. Descartes had indicated his desire to go to Rome to meet with the Pope. He hoped to be there in late January, 1621. Galileo had another reason to visit Rome. He had a desire to meet one more time with Pope Paul V to make his peace with him, despite all the turmoil that had taken place and the crushing restrictions that the Pope had imposed upon his science. I felt that this was prompted by Shepherd’s talks with Galileo, and the growing influence Shepherd had on his views of science and religion as part of a unified theology. Galileo’s plans to meet Paul V were thwarted by the Pope’s death on January 28th.

 We decided that we would move on to Rome, wait for the new Pope to be elected, and see if a new Pope might have different reactions to the changing times in science.

Chapter 28

 Rome was more (or less) than I expected. We found Rome to be a place of squalor and degradation. While knowing that Rome was the seat of the power of the Catholic Church, I knew it also held the distinction of being the destination of artists and poets, sculptors and scholars. Yet it seemed to bring out the worst in these creative people. Drinking and excesses of every type seemed to be prevalent wherever we looked. I was simply a bit surprised, but Shepherd seemed to be not only shocked but enraged by this desecration of a supposedly holy city. I had no illusions about “holy” because I expected the worst in people. That Rome was a place of hypocrisy and debauchery did not disrupt my world. Shepherd seemed deeply wounded somehow.

We traveled to Rome expecting to meet Descartes at some point, but more interested in meeting the new Pope. It turned out to be Gregory XV. He was already sixty-seven years old and evidently was seen merely as a caretaker. We wondered how this might affect Galileo, who was in a running battle with the Church regarding his theories on physics, mathematics, and scientific theory. Shepherd was reassuring to Galileo about his beliefs that science and faith were not antithetical. The Church, however, was far from reassuring on this, and was indeed dogmatic on choices to be made – faith in the literal words of the Bible on the matter of how the world worked was the only acceptable path. On the way to the Vatican and its splendor was the path of human misery in the streets. Children in rags, vendors barking about their wares, and roaming lost souls seemed to mark a very odd seat of Christian life. If Rome were the capitol of Christendom, the world may be in real trouble, I thought. Then again, I knew for a fact that the world was in trouble. I had seen it firsthand as I dealt with some of the dregs of society in England. Galileo had decided to meet with the new Pope, Gregory XV, to discuss his ideas once again, with the hope that he could pronounce his science without being excommunicated. He had been very careful over the past several years to not upset the Church directly, although his writings could be seen by some as a thinly veiled screen for his true beliefs. Directly confronting the Church was still too risky for him. I was amazed that I could venture in the company of Harvey and Galileo – men who were known in Europe as scholars and thinkers of the first degree. Wesley was a theologian of the first rank, but too controversial for most in the established church. His disdain for the Catholic Church was palpable, yet he remained in our party because of his respect of Joseph Shepherd. The fact that he would venture to Rome with us was a testimony of that respect – and perhaps a function of his enormous curiosity. I continued to write letters back to Andrew Kensington to apprise him of our travels and the contacts we would make for his business ideas. Trade and tobacco potentials always kept his interest.

On March 11, 1621, Galileo was given an audience with the new Pope, Gregory XV. I was amazed at the splendor of the Vatican. The Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Square, the stately basilicas ornate with paintings and sculptures, were truly beautiful. The wealth contrasted with the poverty all around was simply a fact of life for people in the city. Shepherd, however, was increasingly disturbed by it. Galileo was summoned before the Pope while we were politely detained in a small café outside of the holy grounds. Shepherd, Harvey, and Wesley talked animatedly over a meal of fresh fish, cheeses, hearty bread, and wine. “I cannot see why Galileo must recant his findings,” started Harvey. “Not all people are as open as you, my friend,” said Shepherd. “These things take time for people to absorb and understand.” “Time!” exclaimed Harvey. “How many years has this poor man been trying to please this group of theologians about things beyond their understanding?” “I am less inclined to be upset about their ignorance than their arrogance,” stated Shepherd. “Does the church not read the book of Amos, or the hundreds of references in the Bible about caring for the poor? Where is the justice?” The conversation continued for nearly two hours as we waited for Galileo. Finally, upon his return to us at our lodgings, he shared with us his frustrations about the meeting with the Pope and his advisors. It was clear that Galileo was not successful in his meeting, and he simply wanted to leave Rome. He spoke little of the specific discussion, perhaps for fear that this was beyond his rights, and partly due to his immense sadness and pain, which did not allow for much expansion on the stifling papal response. As we prepared to leave, we came upon some beggars who were covered with sores and layers of filth. The sight was not uncommon in this city, or any large city in Europe. Shepherd however stopped to give them some coins to help relieve them of a bit of their suffering. He then stooped very close to them and seemed to whisper something to one of them. The man began to weep, then laugh. Soon the other two men began to smile and nod as we walked on. I suspected that they were laughing at the fool who had just given them money for their miserable begging. I challenged Joseph on this. “Joseph, haven’t you learned anything about giving away money to beggars? Those men take you for a fool even as you give them money,” I said with disgust. “What did you say to them?”  “Well, with that response that you just gave, I am not sure you would understand what I told them,” he said. I pressed him. “Now I am even more curious; what did you say?” “I told them that money was not the answer to their problems,” said Shepherd. “I told them that they need healing of the soul first, then healing of the body.” Wesley nodded in agreement. Harvey seemed to feel the answer was profound. I felt bewildered and somewhat ashamed. Once again, Shepherd was unafraid of what people thought of him and pursued an ultimate truth. For all I knew, they were on the way to healing. But my skeptical self reminded me – they were just beggars looking for some money. Descartes did not meet us as we had hoped. This trip to Rome seemed to be a complete failure. I did get to experience the splendor (and squalor) of the capital of Christendom as part of my life journey. However, I was ready to get back to England and start my business life with the East India Company. The call to go on an adventure with Shepherd had seemed like an exhilaration. Now it seemed beyond my station in life. He was simply too far above my inadequate makeup. In Rome, two beggars were walking toward a well-dressed visitor who appeared to be a priest. Perhaps he had stayed there after the papal election, but the beggars only cared that maybe he would be an easy mark like the man they had encountered yesterday. One turned to the other and said, “It looks like the sores on my feet are gone.” The other agreed that the ugly marks they had been covered in yesterday seemed to be gone.

February 22 Heroes

And so, dear brothers, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask?  Romans 12:1 (Living Bible)

Today is February 22nd. Almost everybody remembers it as the birthday of a celebrated hero. I remember it as the birthday of two heroes, both born on February 22, but separated by 179 years. That other hero was my mother, born February 22, 1911. Both of these heroes freely sacrificed for others, and both endured hardships in those acts of service. George Washington has been celebrated worldwide, especially of course in America.

My mother, on the other hand, lived a quiet life, bearing four children, and grieving the loss of a miscarriage. She did not come from wealth, and she had to work early in life, even working days and going to “night school” to complete her high school diploma. My dad owned a bakery in the Clifton Heights area of Cincinnati (near UC and where he grew up), and mom worked in the bakery with him to help make the business survive.  

Mom had a deep faith, and she made sure that her kids did too. We all knew the expectations that mom had for us, and we had better (and we did) live up to them. There was no question about those expectations- regular attendance at Mass, Catholic education through college, good grades, hard work, and regular disciplines to maintain physical and spiritual health.

Mom took in her mother after grandma suffered a debilitating stroke in 1959, and mom cared for her until grandma died, in our house, in 1967.  Mom did not complain, nor did she let others know of all the sacrifices she made for her family. Mom’s selfless lifestyle was visible, but not expressed to others by her very much.

She lived a quiet, but powerful life- one that honored her God and her family. She is one of the heroes born on February 22, and now you know about the hero less celebrated, but the one more beloved.

Prayer: Lord thank you for the sacrifice of those who lay down their lives in the service of others, Amen.

Limits

Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ,who, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God,but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross                                                                                                                                Philippians 2:5-8 (Living Bible)

A discussion with a friend the other day brought up the idea of limits regarding God. When God created us with the ability and freedom to make choices, he put some limits on himself. As an omnipotent God, he can do whatever he pleases to do. He could have created us in whatever way he chose. He could have made it that we could not ever choose evil, or to never disobey him. He could have made us into compliant beings who could never reject him or his love.

But he didn’t.

God allows us to make choices, both good and bad- choices which affect us and others in his creation. He gives us the opportunity to love him as he has loved us, or to love ourselves more than him or anyone else. He has given us the gift of free will.

We love our freedom! At the same time, we rail against God and others when things do not fall in line with what we want. That “free will thing” cuts both ways.

God loves us enough to give us our freedom to choose, even if it is not his best plan for us. He wants what is best for us, but we often choose the path of quick relief and pleasure- a path that leads to short cuts and to addictions. Yes, anything that makes us feel good immediately has the potential to be addictive. God gives us the choice, and he wants us to choose the path of the long- haul disciplines, not short cuts to feel good.

So, God gives choices to us, and in doing so, he deliberately limits himself. Indeed, sending Jesus to earth was the ultimate example of limiting his omnipotence for affiliation with his creation.

What a loving concept.

Prayer: It is hard for us to understand the plan of limiting yourself for us. Thank you for showing us that kind of love, Amen

Speak it into Existence

and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32 (Living Bible)

I was speaking with a colleague recently about the privilege we have as counselors to be able to help people to speak their truth into existence. What I mean by that is, sharing a difficult experience, or letting go of a shameful experience, into the light of day with another human being is freeing. Often, we as counselors have the privilege of being that “trusted person” to whom a client relates a deep, painful part of their life so as to free them from the bondage of secrecy.

Once we can release that deeply held information, perhaps hidden due to shame or guilt or some other reason, we become free of the shackles of the secret. I call that speaking truth into existence so that it is no longer the shameful darkness which needs to be hidden. Rather, the unburdening process becomes the fact of life that makes us human.

Everyone has some kind of darkness in them, large or small. Sharing deeply held beliefs, or even traumatic events, frees the mind and soul. To the extent that we can bring such events into the light of day, there is freedom for all.

It does not need to be a counselor with whom people share such closely held parts of us. A safe, trusted partner, friend, confidant is essential for maintaining a healthy soul.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the plan to give light to chase away darkness, Amen.

The Problem with Idols

When the listening crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted (in their local dialect, of course), “These men are gods in human bodies!”  They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Jupiter, and that Paul, because he was the chief speaker, was Mercury!  The local priest of the Temple of Jupiter, located on the outskirts of the city, brought them cartloads of flowers and prepared to sacrifice oxen to them at the city gates before the crowds.

 But when Barnabas and Paul saw what was happening, they ripped at their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting, “Men! What are you doing? We are merely human beings like yourselves! We have come to bring you the Good News that you are invited to turn from the worship of these foolish things and to pray instead to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.                                                                                                                                                                                  Acts 14:11-15 (Living Bible)

The problem with idols is that they keep letting us down. We have a need, it seems, to place people on a pedestal, then gradually, or sometimes abruptly, those idols begin to show their weaknesses. We have a need for heroic actions, and indeed, there are many, many heroes among us. Often, heroic acts are unseen or are not noted, and those heroes do not get the adulation they might deserve. Other heroic figures, our very public figures, are praised and even idolized. Statues are made, poems are written, portraits made, etc. It seems that we have a need to find these figures and recognize them.

Then, over time, we see the flaws in character. We see the failures, the duplicity, the mistakes, the compromise. We may judge, from a historical perspective, that they were flawed people, and not deserving of that statue. Truly, if only perfect people got statues, we would have no statues.

We have our “Mt. Rushmore” of heroes from all walks of life. Sports shows sometimes ask, “Name your Mt. Rushmore of baseball”, or basketball, or whatever sport. People are challenged to name the top four or five in their sport who deserve a place on the “Mt. Rushmore” of that sport.

The original Mt. Rushmore has four distinguished Presidents- Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. These men are venerated on the side of a mountain for heaven’s sake, and highly praiseworthy all, yet all had character defects.

So, we need perspective on our “idols”. Let’s remember that every idol has flaws. That just makes them human.

Prayer: You have made us in your image, and worthy of respect, all of us. Help us when we do not show respect to all your creation, Amen.