This is a story about a planet called Vulcan. No, not the place where S’chn T’gai Spock—better known as “Mr. Spock”—was raised by his Vulcan father and human mother. This is about a planet in our Solar System by that very same name. It differs, however, from all the rest in one important respect: no one has ever been able to find it.
To understand the mystery of Vulcan and how it was eventually solved, we must first turn our attention to a different—and quite real—planetary body: Uranus. While Uranus was discovered towards the end of the 18thcentury, during the early 1800s astronomers were beginning to wonder whether it might actually be a star. Those doubts had arisen because the planet was not adhering to Newton’s theory of gravity.
We generally feel more comfortable around those who share our beliefs and outlook on life, who think the way we do. The naysayers, gadflies and critics in our ranks can be such a bother. They challenge our perspective and compel us to rethink our opinions. Even when they do it politely and diplomatically, they can be such a nuisance.
Most societies and organizations dislike dissenters but none more so than religious organizations. Because they are typically hierarchal and authoritative, and their leaders believe their authority originates with God, their actions and decisions should not be open to question. But the heads of organizations of all stripes, when confronted by recalcitrant subordinates, often throw up their hands and exclaim: “Why is it so hard for you to do what we ask, to simply conform?”
Throughout history, most societies have embraced the notion of an afterlife where the spirits of the dead reside. Such a belief frequently spurs the living to find ways to stay in touch, or otherwise maintain a connection, with those who have gone before. And some cultures do it in unique ways.
Mormons, for example, perform religious rituals in their temples on behalf of their ancestors, believing those ordinances will cement familial bonds through the eternities. The Catholic Church—until the Reformation quashed the practice—offered intercessory prayers and elaborate masses for the departed. Today, adherents of Catholicism frequently look to those beyond the veil (Saints) for assistance with matters in their daily lives.
As a passionate student of the American Civil War, I have visited many battlefields and other historical sites where the Bellum unfolded. But still on my list—until the fall of last year—was Charleston, South Carolina, the location of Fort Sumter, where the War Between the States formally began on April 12, 1861. I went there primarily to pay homage to Major Robert Anderson, the commander of the U.S. forces stationed in Charleston and perhaps one of the most important unsung heroes of our country’s fight for survival.
Major Anderson was ordered to assume command of two companies of Federal soldiers stationed in and around Charleston in November 1860, shortly after Lincoln was elected President. Tensions were high and talk of secession was rampant, creating a hostile environment for anyone sporting the uniform of a U.S. Army soldier.
The Healing of the Syrophoenician (Canaanite) Woman’s daughter, chronicled in both Matthew and Mark, is an episode in Christ’s ministry we tend to pass over or sweep under the rug because it is embarrassing and difficult to explain. The challenges posed by the text, however, are no excuse for leaving it out of a manual or treating it superficially. Indeed, ignoring inconvenient scriptures or ones that fail to reaffirm our beliefs shows an unwillingness to engage with them on their own terms and infantilizes both the teaching and learning process.
Towards the end of his ministry, Christ is around the Sea of Galilee where he performs many miracles and continues to preach his gospel. But he becomes so fatigued by the relentless crowds that he decides to get out of Dodge. He heads north to the region of Tyre and Sidon—the major seaports of Syria and Phoenicia—in search of privacy, solitude and rest. But, no sooner does he arrive than he is accosted by a mother seeking help for her sick child: