When my parents married, my mother was not a member of the church and my father, who hailed from a long line of Latter-day Saints, had been inactive for some time. But they each retained a strong belief in God and desired to find a place to worship where they both would feel comfortable.
When I, their firstborn, arrived, they were attending the Presbyterian Church in my hometown, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. So I was baptized and added to the church register shortly after my birth.
One of our favorite family traditions when I was young boy—one we shared with millions of other Americans—was gathering around the television every Sunday evening to watch Bonanza, an American Western set in Nevada near Carson City. The show chronicles the adventures of the Cartwright family, owners of one of the largest ranches in the state: the Ponderosa.
The family patriarch was the thrice-widowed Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene), who had three sons of varying temperaments. The show, which ran a record 14 seasons on NBC, was popular because it offered both comedy and drama, and told compelling stories about the challenges the family, and those in its orbit, confronted.
On the evening of March 4, 1865, a black man, dressed in his Sunday best, approached the entrance to the White House. He was there to see the President of the United States who, earlier that day, had delivered his second inaugural address to the nation. Having heard that Lincoln would be hosting a reception open to the public, Frederick Douglass decided to attend.
Douglass, until recently, had not been a big fan of Mr. Lincoln who, early in his presidency, seemed ambivalent on the question of abolishing slavery. But recent events—the single-mindedness with which Lincoln had prosecuted the war and his dogged efforts to win passage of a constitutional amendment banning involuntary servitude—had caused him to rethink his views.
January 1, 2007, was a dark day for many Gypsy families living in Bulgaria, for that was when their country joined the European Union. The livelihood of these individuals was suddenly threatened because, as a condition of membership, Bulgaria was required to outlaw the keeping of bears in captivity.
For centuries, young bears were captured by circuses and entrepreneurs from the Roma community, domesticated, and then taught to dance, perform tricks, and even imitate celebrities. While to the uninitiated observer this might seem little different than teaching an elephant to stand on its hind legs, it was undeniably cruel.
In the early 1950s, the Karnaphuli pulp and paper mill, one of the earliest large-scale industrial enterprises in the recently established country of Pakistan, commenced operations. For raw material, the plant drew almost exclusively upon the vast bamboo forests along the upper reaches of the Karnaphuli River in East Pakistan. The suppliers of the bamboo and residents of the region, in addition to the venture’s founders, had high hopes for the project.
During the start-up phase, the business had its fair share of managerial difficulties and other troubles, but by the end of the decade it had begun to prosper. Then disaster struck. The bamboo began to flower.
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 often challenge our perspective and compel us to rethink our opinions. Even when they do it politely and diplomatically, it can be unsettling.
Leaders likewise do not like dissenters. This is especially true with religious organizations, which are hierarchal in nature and believe their authority originates with God, thus shielding their actions and decisions from questioning. But heads of organizations of all stripes, in moments of frustration, often throw up their hands and say: “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: