Monthly Archives: April 2017

He Didn’t Expect to Change the World

MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY RACHEL KOVACINY

Five hundred years ago this October, a monk and professor at the University of Wittenberg, Germany, wanted to discuss some theological questions with other learned Christians. So he wrote them all down and, since the internet was a few centuries from being invented yet, he posted them to the door of the church instead of to his blog or Facebook wall. He wasn’t trying to cause trouble, he wasn’t trying to start a new church body, and he definitely wasn’t trying to change the world. He just had questions about some church practices that troubled him, like charging money to get souls out of purgatory.

His name, of course, was Martin Luther. And, whether he meant to or not, he most certainly caused trouble, started a new church body, and eventually changed the world. But what he’d meant to do is reflected in the name we now have for the movement he started: the Protestant Reformation. He was protesting that some of the church’s activities went against what was taught in the Bible, and he wanted to reform the church, to fix things that had gone wrong. Not overthrow it, not replace it, just reform it.

The trouble was, he attacked the selling of indulgences. Indulgences were like “get out of jail free” cards for purgatory, which the church taught was a sort of limbo world between earth and heaven. They said that if you believed in Jesus as your Savior, but you’d committed more sins than the good works you’d done would atone for, you had to hang out in purgatory for a while until, as the Ghost in Shakespeare’s Hamlet put it, your foul crimes were “burnt and purged away” in “sulfurous and tormenting flames” (I,5). If you or someone you loved was probably going to have to stay in purgatory for a while, the church said you could lessen their sentence, or even forgo it entirely, by buying an indulgence. That was a piece of paper that entitled you to some of the extra good works done by various saints who had done so many good things in their lives that not only would they go straight to heaven, but they had leftover goodness you could get credited to yourself or a loved one. Why worry that your mother or father or child who died recently was languishing in torment when you could pay the church to get them released? Or, as a popular rhyme about indulgences went, “As soon as the coin clinks in the chest, the soul flies up to heavenly rest.”

Selling these indulgences was a really big moneymaker for the church at that time, which made church officials happy. Why? Because they were building a gigantic cathedral in Rome called St. Peter’s Basilica. This was an expensive and lengthy project, and selling indulgences was a super-successful fundraising idea. So when some upstart monk had the audacity to question whether or not selling indulgences was a scriptural practice, the church authorities couldn’t ignore him.

But wait — what was one unknown professor at some German university going to do against the power of the church, which had the support of the entire Holy Roman Empire? What did it matter if he posted ninety-five discussion questions on the door of some church? How many people were going to attend his little theological debate, anyway? The internet didn’t exist, TV didn’t exist, radio didn’t even exist — nobody except some musty old professors were going to care about this, right?

A century earlier, that would have been true. But by 1517, the world had Gutenberg’s printing press, which allowed pamphlets and books to be printed cheaply and quickly. Ideas spread swiftly and accurately now, not passed by word of mouth or by people copying out what someone else had written, but by being printed and distributed in massive quantities. And that’s what happened with Luther’s 95 Theses — someone printed them up and started passing them around. People got excited about this debate. Word spread that some professor in Wittenberg was daring to question the church’s practice of selling indulgences. Shocking! Exciting! News-worthy!

Suddenly, Dr. Martin Luther was the center of all kinds of attention and controversy. Simply by wanting to discuss church practices and whether or not they were based in Scripture, he’d caused trouble, he was on his way to starting a new church body, and the Reformation he began would end up changing the world.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Kovaciny’s story “The Man on the Buckskin Horse” appears in the Five Magic Spindles anthology now available in paperback and Kindle editions. Learn more about her at her author website, rachelkovaciny.com

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William Wilberforce

MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY VERONICA LEIGH

To call William Wilberforce a man of faith might be a bit of an understatement. Wilberforce was a force not to be reckoned with. Born in 1759, he was sent to live with his uncle and aunt after the death of his father, to receive a proper education and have a more privileged upbringing. In the late 18th century, the majority of English population belonged to the Church of England. However, more evangelical movements had begun to crop up, such as the Methodists and Quakers; even within the Anglican Church certain members became more evangelical. Influenced by George Whitefield, Wilberforce was initially drawn to the movement. His mortified family deterred him from becoming more devout in his faith. By the time he was at Cambridge, like many young men, he embraced a more worldly lifestyle. He adopted the customary gambling and drinking shenanigans that went hand in hand with life as a student. Wilberforce purportedly had an excellent singing voice and loved to entertain others. Even so, he remained a good and conscientious individual.

Following the deaths of his grandfather and uncle, Wilberforce became financially independent and though he could have lived the life of a gentleman, he was a thinker and at the age of twenty-one he became a member of parliament. As a wit, he became a great orator. His quick mind and sharp tongue cut his opponents down to size. His friend William Pitt the Younger (who would later become the Prime Minister of England) also entered the political arena and despite their inexperience, they were determined to make their mark on the world.

Wilberforce had one plan, God had another. The Lord began to draw Wilberforce back into the fold. It began with daily prayers, Scripture reading, church attendance and led to more dramatic statements of faith such as forsaking alcohol, dancing, and gambling. His spiritual awakening made him question his purpose; he wondered if he should leave politics and forsake public life. Perhaps the Lord could use him in a different manner. His friend William Pitt and John Newton (the same John Newton who had originally been involved in the slave trade, came to Christ and became a minister, and wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace”) convinced him that he was exactly where he needed to be and that God was using him and would continue to.

william2Wilberforce’s calling came when he met Thomas Clarkson. A radical abolitionist, Thomas showed Wilberforce the evidence of the evils of the slave trade and slavery. Wilberforce’s new Christian faith challenged him, leading him to believe that he had to oppose slavery and use his position as a politician to end it. He decided to target the slave trade itself, knowing that once that was abolished, slavery would eventually cease. Wilberforce and an eclectic group of evangelicals gathered firsthand accounts, evidence, they lobbied, made speeches, and enlisted the help of former slaves for a campaign against slavery. Thousands of signatures poured in, but that was not enough. The bill he put forth was defeated and thus was the beginning of Wilberforce’s unwavering commitment to the cause.

Every year that followed, Wilberforce would bring forth a bill to end the slave trade and every year he faced failure. During his crusade, Wilberforce battled with his own demons. He had a number of health problems, many gastrointestinal issues, which he treated with opium. Addiction was not understood in those days. It destroyed his eyesight and caused him debilitating depression. He later kicked the habit, likely from God’s health.

The French Revolution and its unrest affected politics overseas and there was a lull Wilberforce’s campaigning. It was during that time he was introduced to Barbara Spooner and their courtship lasted all of eight days. Always passionate, for Wilberforce that was enough, therefore he and Barbara married. It wasn’t long before they had children and he became a very devoted father.

Following the loss of his friend William Pitt the Younger, Wilberforce and his ragtag group of evangelicals resumed the campaign against slavery. In collaboration with many, a bill was put forth which would ban British subjects from aiding or participating in the slave trade to the French colonies. It passed with very little opposition. The slave trade petered out overnight.

Wilberforce never ceased fighting against slavery, and continued to support various causes, including children’s rights, reform for workers and animal rights. Everything he did, his actions and his crusades, stemmed from his faith in Christ. He resigned from politics in the 1820s and in 1830 lost much of his fortune via a business venture by his son. His last years were spent coping with ill health and staying with various friends on long visits. Wilberforce died in 1833, three days after hearing that the Bill for the Abolition passed.

One has to wonder would the world would have been like had Wilberforce not heard the call of God. But then again, everything happens for a reason.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Leigh has been published in several anthologies and her work has appeared on GoWorldTravel.com and the Artist Unleashed, and she has published a couple of fictional stories. She makes her home in Indiana with her family and her furbabies. To learn more about her, visit her blog.

“Blessed are they who have not seen”: A Personal Meditation on Faith

MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY JESSICA PRESCOTT

Faith.

It’s a tricky thing, is it not?

Simply put, faith is the act of believing in that which we cannot see.  If we could see God in all his glory, right before our mortal eyes—faith would instantly become a superfluous virtue.  A moot point.  After all, when we see the sun rise, we don’t stand about debating whether it’s a “real” sun or simply a clever sham.  We know beyond a doubt that it’s real.  We’ve seen it.

But . . . we cannot see our God. And this uncomfortable fact leaves each and every human being on earth alone to face, in their own way, the following dilemma.  Namely: is God real?  Or is the concept of an all-knowing, all-loving God just another pleasant fiction; something we humans have fabricated over the centuries as a way of keeping ourselves sane?

I know I, for one, have certainly struggled with this dilemma over the years.  It’s a tough one.  Deep inside, I feel—I know—that there’s a real God out there.  There has to be.  I’ve talked to Him, for Pete’s sake.  And yet, I still have doubts, every so often . . . doubts that run something like this:  “What the heck am I doing, anyway—trusting my heart, my future, my whole life, to a Power that I cannot prove is even real?”

If I could see God, this would be a lot easier, wouldn’t it?  But I can’t. For the past year or so, whenever I’m wrestling in my mind with this issue, there’s a certain quote that keeps coming back to me—over and over.  I think it means something; something special.  (It does to me, anyway.) Here it is: “I know how you think.  But I have seen too much.  I believe in prayer for the dead.  I have seen too much.”  

As you might surmise from the reference to “prayer for the dead,” this quote is in the context of a Catholic-Protestant debate.  It’s taken from Willa Cather’s masterpiece My Antonia, from the scene in which a Bohemian friend of Antonia Shimerda’s family tries to explain to their Protestant neighbors, the Burdens, why the Shimerdas need a priest for their dead father. But it doesn’t only apply to the Catholic-Protestant divide.  This quote, I think, ultimately speaks to the struggle of human faith as a whole.  Why, in the end, do we choose to believe in God?  More to the point, why do I believe in God?

It’s pretty simple, really, I guess.  I believe in God because . . . I have seen too much.

No, I haven’t seen God.  And I never will, until I die.  But I have seen, over and over and over, so much that tells my soul there truly is a God in this universe—a real, living, all-powerful God.  And it’s what I’ve seen that keeps me going; even in the face of repeated attacks on my faith from the outside, and continual doubts from the inside.

I’ve seen men and women who have dedicated their entire lives to God’s service—and who are some of the happiest people I know, in the bargain.

I’ve seen people I love facing death in peace, without fear—and all because of their complete confidence in what awaits them on the other side, in their Father’s house.

I’ve seen the breathtaking, otherworldly joy on a child’s face when he or she receives the Eucharist for the very first time.

I’ve seen friends and family who don’t believe in God, and are yet comforted in times of pain and grief and uncertainty by the mere mention of His name.

I’ve seen awe-inspiring summer storms and the delicate, shimmering rainbows that follow; and I’ve felt the certainty of knowing that the Artist Who created them must be a thousand times more awe-inspiring and beautiful.

More than anything, I’ve seen how God’s love and mercy has changed me, as a person, and continues to change me—every day.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, I still believe in Almighty God, and I always will, no matter how many doubts assail me; “not . . . because I see [Him], but because by [Him] I see everything else.”

Faith. It’s still a tricky thing. But it’s worthwhile.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Prescott is a former homeschool student and current graduate student, pursuing a master’s degree in American history with a focus on immigration studies.  In her (sadly limited) free time, she can usually be found listening to “Hamilton” or Celine Dion or Twenty One Pilots and dreaming up new ideas for historical fiction novels.  Which, she hopes, will someday make her famous.  Someday… She also blogs.

The Young Messiah

MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY CHARITY BISHOP

Have you ever wondered what Jesus was like as a child? How he felt about leaving Alexandria, a great city of intellectual learning and trade, for a Judea under Roman occupation? He went from a philosophical environment to crucifixions, and although John tells us in scripture that Jesus did “many things,” enough to fill several books, we know nothing about his childhood until at twelve years old, his parents found him among the rabbis in the temple.

Speculation on the childhood of Christ is so controversial, only former vampire novelist Anne Rice dared to do it, in her first-person novel Christ Out Of Egypt, made into a film last year called The Young Messiah. In both, Christ is seeking the truth of his birth and identity at seven years old, but the subplot involving a Roman Centurion named Severus whom Herod Archelaus commissions to “find and kill this messiah-child,” was written for the screen. Young Jesus resurrects dead birds and boys, heals a relative from a fatal illness, and discovers the truth about his birth and greater purpose, while Severus faces demons from his past… he led the assault that murdered the babies of Bethlehem for “Herod the Great.”

This film aroused some controversy upon release due to its speculative nature; some felt it inappropriate to “imagine” stories centered around a young Messiah, but I find it thoughtful and well-written, based upon in-depth research, with a respectful tone toward Christ and his family. It brings awareness to what it must have been like for Jesus, to encounter his first instances of brutality… to face the horrors of a Roman occupation… and it shows how others interact with him, even as a child; through receptive hearts or resistant ones. Instead of thanking Jesus for resurrecting him after an accident, an Egyptian bully attacks him a second time; a stranger on the road, kind enough to give Jesus a carved wooden camel, turns knowledge of him over to Archelaus; when the Centurion asks why he did it, he confesses it was for money—something even the hardened Severus, child-killer, set upon the trail of slaughtering “yet another boy,” struggles to understand.

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In one scene, a man assaults a woman on the road. She’s a slave and her attacker murdered her master and mistress, raped her, and intends to sell her; she kills him in self-defense. Jesus has never seen “domestic” violence before, stricken as he encounters human cruelties unfamiliar to him from a sheltered upbringing in Egypt. He shows her kindness and forgiveness in inviting her to come with them and be part of the family; he gives her the gift of sandals “for when you walk with us,” a symbol of shedding her old life, and walking forward to a new one. The Jews could have stoned her for killing a man, and or for her rape —making her “unclean,” but he looks upon her in love.

It’s not a sin to wonder, theorize, or discuss how Jesus might have come to the knowledge of his birth and purpose, or to ponder what miracles he might have performed that weren’t written down. The film invites us to contemplate these things and more… to consider the life Jesus left behind in returning to Judea; to wonder what his first interaction with Roman soldiers was like; to imagine how he must have felt, witnessing incredible acts of violence and loss; to learn about the zealots and his people’s persecution; and to grow into the rabbi who urged a nation under domination to turn the other cheek, offer forgiveness to their enemies, and “love one another.”

Stories are powerful, which is why Jesus used them so often in his teachings; he told people parables intended to provoke them to think and change their way of thinking. A good story lingers with you longer than anything else because it engages your mind and heart. The stories that urge us to think deeper, contemplate truths beyond the obvious, and make historical or Biblical figures real in respectful ways, broaden our understanding of God. For me, few do that better than The Young Messiah.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and literature, but alas, she must make a living, so she spends her days doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!

The Secret of Kells

MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY SCARLETT GRANT

A long time ago I watched a magical animated short film about a young monk in a monastery set in Dark Ages Ireland. This film was called The Secret of Kells (2009). The story it tells is of Brendan, a young novice monk living at the Monastery of Kells and the Book of Iona – which would eventually become known as the Book of Kells.

Although a novice monk, Brendan has family at the monastery. His uncle, Abbot Cellach, was an illuminator, but due to the threat of Viking raids he is consumed by the task to build an impenetrable wall around the monastery. As they are religious men and the community around them mainly consists of the elderly, mothers, and children, they have no other way to protect themselves. Cellach’s dire task has also in turn neglected his care of Brendan, who often feels alone inside the dour monastery. Brendan is apprenticed to the scriptorium, where the writing and illumination of religious works were produced in a monastery.

Brendan’s world is interrupted by the arrival of Brother Aidan from Iona, who is accompanied by his loyal cat and carrying the unfinished Book of Kells. As Aidan fled from Iona due to a Viking raid, this further increases Cellach’s obsession to build an unstoppable wall. Due to Brendan’s fascination with the book, Aidan enlists his assistance. From then on Brendan’s faces enemies and obstacles which are not always from our own world.

Although the film focuses on the creation of the Book of Kells, many characters and stylistic elements also come from traditional Irish mythology including pre-Christian Irish deities. This is because when development began all the way back in 1999, the creators had admired other films which had based their animation on traditional art. These films were Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler (1993, 1995), Disney’s Mulan (1998) and the work of Hayao Miyazaki. From this admiration they decided to do something similar but drawing inspiration from Irish art. The stylistic elements can be seen in amazingly animated scenes showing the creation of the book, ending the film in a fitting way.

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Now onto the historical Book of Kells. No one is exactly sure of the date of composition, though it’s thought it began circa 800 AD. Previously it was thought that the book was created in the time of St. Columba or even by his own hand. But it is hard to believe this considering he died in 597 AD. The film keeps the origins of the book truthful, although there are multiple suggestions for the origin of the book. One is that it was actually started in northern England, was moved to Iona and then on to Kells. Another suggestion is that the book was actually completely produced in Kells. But the most popular opinion is that it had come over sometime from Iona. As during this time Viking raids were known to occur on Iona, it is plausible that the monks fled to Kells. But again no one is sure about when the book actually arrived in Kells. Although there is a reference the book from a record dated from 1007 AD, so it is certain it would have arrived in Kells before then.

The only reason why the book is known as the Book of Kells (rather than the Book of Iona), is because it was kept in Kells throughout the medieval period. It was moved to Dublin in 1654, for safekeeping. Soon after in 1661, it was presented to the prestigious Trinity College in Dublin where it has remained ever since. It has been on display in the Old Library at Trinity College since the 19th Century.

As someone who has seen the Book of Kells at the College, I’ll give a brief description of the experience. Firstly, Trinity College is a lovely university, obviously modelled on previous campuses at Oxford and Cambridge. Thankfully it was a sunny clear day because me and my family had to wait in the queue outside for about 30 minutes before we could even see the admissions office. Then even after paying some euros to enter, there was more shuffling and waiting. Finally, we entered a small room with a glass cabinet in the middle. There was the Book of Kells.

Sadly, I can’t remember exactly what pages it was showing. But I do remember that it was gleaming with gold. In The Secret of Kells they mention it as “the book that turns darkness into light” and I think this is a pretty accurate statement. Although I wanted to study it longer, I felt that I had to move on as more people kept flooding into this tiny room. So I walked through the ancient library and into the gift shop. And would you believe it? They had a huge section dedicated to The Secret of Kells.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Scarlett Grant is a young graduate trying to step into the real world. When she’s not writing for Femnista, she’s focusing on her own blog: Thoughts in 500 Words. She is also an amateur history buff, with other interests in art, film, languages, music and writing.

Caroline Herschel

MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY LILA DONOVAN

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. -Romans 1:20

Caroline Herschel was one of the first female astronomers and actually recognized in her era for her contributions to astronomy. She discovered several comets, was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, was made an honorary member of a couple organizations, and awarded with another Gold Medal by the King of Prussia on her 96th birthday.

Caroline overcame great odds to become an astronomer. She was born in Hanover, Germany on March 16, 1750. She was the 8th child and fourth daughter, and her father was a musician. When she was ten Caroline ended up with typhus which severely stunted her growth. Some accounts claim that at the age of three she was struck with smallpox and disfigured in one eye. Due to her disabilities her mother felt that she shouldn’t be educated and should train to become a house servant. Her father wanted to educate her and would take the opportunity to do so when her mother wasn’t around. After her father’s death her brother William had moved to England, and decided to bring Caroline to live with him. William told their mother that it would only be temporary so at the age of 22 Caroline moved to England. William was a musician and music teacher and tutored his sister in voice lessons and she became an accomplished singer.

Over time William became interested in astronomy and Caroline started assisting him in his endeavors, she would polish his mirrors and mounted telescopes. Soon she also started to gain an interest in astronomy as well. William built her a comet-searching telescope which she started using and made her own discoveries. William and Caroline would often work together and other times they’d work independently. She’d often assist him with his research. On her own she would look at the night sky and make her own findings and observations. On August 1, 1786 she discovered her first comet. Between 1789-97 she discovered eight comets altogether.

caroline2Eventually King George III paid her and her brother, this was at a time where men and women weren’t paid for their scientific services. She was the first woman to get paid for her work in astronomy in England and the first woman to hold a government position. Caroline was celebrated in her own time with several honors as previously mentioned. Her story is so rare especially for a woman pursuing science. A lot of her success is because her brother got her out of her horrible home situation. William basically gave her freedom from her overbearing mother who had low expectations for Caroline, so Caroline could have a better life.

Astronomy is actually one of the main reasons why I became a Christian. Faith has often been difficult for me to grasp. I used to be a doubter. I didn’t just doubt God. I also doubted myself. I had zero confidence in myself and God. Looking back on my life back then, I was what the bible calls a double-minded man (James 1:6-8). At one point I had decided that I was agnostic but over time it became harder to stay an agnostic. Basically an agnostic is someone that isn’t sure whether or not God exists. While atheists deny that He exists, agnostics just aren’t sure. The arguments of atheism just weren’t satisfying enough to me and thus I “settled” on agnosticism. Being an agnostic to me felt like being in a spiritual limbo. It was very lonely. In my mind I had decided that the agnostics had better arguments than atheists and Christians, but over time, deep within my psyche, I just wanted more. I didn’t get why I wanted more. I just did. I now understand it was a longing deep within my soul. Scripture tells us that God has set eternity into the human heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and now that I’m a Christian I have to agree.

At night when I looked at the night sky and the diversity of all living things in this Earth, I just had a hard time agreeing with agnosticism and slowly started changing my mind a little bit at a time. I went from not being sure if God existed, to believing in a monotheistic God, to believing that the God of Israel was the true God. I eventually saw that Jesus Christ was His son, the savior of mankind, and that the Holy Spirit was our counselor, guide and comforter. It was a very slow progression toward becoming a Christian. One of my fears was that I’d believe in the “wrong God” and miss out on the true God. I kept searching, asking questions and all these small steps led me to Christ. I really wanted a “burning bush” experience with God but that wasn’t how it happened for me.

I’ve come to understand that burning bush experiences with God don’t always generate lasting faith with people, and that God can speak to us in obvious ways like through science. God didn’t just leave us on our own, He created blueprints throughout creation that lead back to Him.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lila Donovan is a Christian and a university student. She loves to read, draw, write, and has a blog.