Saturday, October 10, 2020

LUTHER : In Real Time--Episode 1

 

Today is the opening day of the audio theater Luther: In Real Time that I have been commissioned to write by Ligonier Ministries. I have written an episode every week for the six months leading up to Luther's cosmic stand before the emperor at the Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521. Please listen and share with everybody! 

It has been a delightful process working with such great folks, especially with Producer/Director Barry Cooper. You can listen wherever you listen to your podcasts. For more information visit ligonier.org/luther-in-real-time/.

I thought you might like to see an early version of the script for episode 1 of the series. So, here it is:

LUTHER—In Real Time Podcast: Episode 1--Damnable Heresy

SFX: fist hammering on wooden door; indistinct shouting 

It’s October 10, 1520. At the behest of Pope Leo X, his agents pound on the wicket door in the gate of the Augustinian Priory in Wittenberg.

SFX: latch turning and door creaking open

The agents thrust an official legal document from the Holy See in Rome into the hands of Martin Luther.

The Pope’s leaden seal was attached to the document with a coarse hemp rope; Luther weighed it pensively in his hand, turning it over; Apostles Peter and Paul on one side, and Pastor Pastorum Leo X—Shepherd of Shepherds—on the reverse side.

He’d seen it pressed in wax before this—a decade before, while on pilgrimage in Rome.

Cloaked in his black Augustinian cowl, Luther had travelled from Erfurt, Germany over the Alps to the Eternal City in Rome—walking all 639 miles on foot.

Bone-weary in Rome, Luther had dutifully crawled up the Scala Sancta, all twenty-eight cold, marble steps on his knees.

SFX: Pater noster murmuring crowd

The Sacred Stairs were papal-certified to be the very ones Jesus ascended to face his trial before Pontus Pilate, the same twenty-eight steps Christ had then DEscended when condemned and led out to his flogging and crucifixion.

SFX: indulgence hawker inflection, words indistinct.

When Luther finally reached the top, a Dominican friar thrust a wooden coin box toward him, shaking it impatiently.

SFX: coins ringing in a wooden box

Luther dropped a florin into the slot in the money coffer. In a careless monotone, the friar hastily promised him forgiveness of his sins…

SFX: Friar muttering absolution in Latin “Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvatDeinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

…handing him a papal letter of indulgence: the promise that his pilgrimage, the scaling of the marble steps on his knees, had somehow lessened the time he would have to spend in purgatory, paying for his sins.

LUTHER: “But what if it is not so?”

Luther trembled as he turned the document over in his hand.

LUTHER: “What—if—it-is-not-so?”

As time passed, Luther’s doubts about indulgences only deepened.

Watching notorious indulgence peddler Johann Tetzel parading outside the Elster Gate of Wittenberg as if he were a prince or a pope, troubled Luther. Hawking forgiveness of sins for a quarter florin? It had to stop.

TETZEL: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!”

Seeing Tetzel fleece Germany’s working poor with promises that HIS indulgence, bearing the papal seal, was their passport to paradise, enraged Luther. Later, he would comment:

LUTHER: “I find nothing that promotes work better than angry fervor. For when I wish to compose, write, pray and preach well, I must be angry. It refreshes my entire system, my mind is sharpened, and all unpleasant thoughts and depression fade away.”

LUTHER: “If you want to change the world, take up your pen and write.”

So Luther did.

He took up his goosequill and, one by one, he compiled a list of 95 reasons why his beloved Church must stop exploiting God’s people by selling them forgiveness.

LUTHER: “…if the Pope knew the exactions of the indulgence-preachers he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter’s should burn to ashes than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.” 

When the ink was dry, Luther, strode through the archway from the courtyard of his home at Wittenberg’s Augustinian monastery, the black folds of his Augustinian habit billowing behind him.

He turned left onto the cobblestones of the Collegienstrasse, past the Stadtkirche, the Town Church where he preached to the peasants, and across the market square. 

SFX: donkey braying, cartwheels clattering.

Side-stepping the filth oozing between the cobblestones, Martin walked past the studio workshop of Lucas Cranach the famous Renaissance painter.

Some of his students fell into step behind him, eager to see what their favorite professor was up to. A block and a half farther on, Luther halted before the door of the Castle Church, took out his 95 Theses…

SFX: hammering and church bell tolling ominously, background street noises

…and posted them on the Duke’s church door. It was October 31, 1517, All Hallow’s Eve.

For 16th Century scholars, nailing a document to the church door was not uncommon – it was a way to invite debate.

But some close to Luther were afraid. His outspoken criticism of indulgences also reflected negatively on the practice of venerating religious relics as a way of gaining God’s favor. 

The church Luther had chosen belonged to Duke Frederick The Wise. An avid collector of relics.

The Duke had commissioned Lucas Cranach to illustrate a catalogue of his relics, which in 1517 included more than 5,000 bits and pieces of the saints. By 1520, it numbered 20,000.

A piece of straw from the manger, a tooth from St. Jerome, four hairs from the head of Jesus’ mother, a hair from Jesus’ beard, and, his most prized relic, a thorn certified by the Pope to have pierced the Savior’s brow.

SFX: mealtime table sounds: wooden utensils, indistinct voices, laughter—under narration: 

LUTHER: “What lies there are about relics!” 

SFX: beer stein clonking on wooden table

LUTHER: “One claims to have a feather from the wing of the angel Gabriel, and the Bishop of Mainz has a flame from Moses’ burning bush. And how does it happen that eighteen apostles are buried in Germany when Christ had only twelve?”

SFX: young men laughing hilariously, back slapping 

 Luther’s friends feared that if he lost the Duke’s support, he might lose everything—including his life.

But Luther was resolved.

LUTHER: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that really matter.” 

Over the next three years, the developing fracture between Luther and Rome became a chasm.

In the years since posting his 95 Theses, his pen had not been idle. With that pen, Luther had started a fire that had spread to the highest levels of power in the European world; to kings and queens, to knights and bishops, even to popes and emperors.

 

SFX: fist pounding persistently on wooden door

And so. On this day, October 10th, 1520, Luther’s hammering on the door of the Castle Church had come back to haunt him. Now agents of the Pope were hammering on HIS door.

 

SFX: Papers being turned over in the hand.

 

Luther looks at the opening lines of the document. It is an official legal document from the Pope himself, entitled Exsurge Domine, “Arise, O Lord…”

 

LUTHER: “Condemn—reprobate—heretical”

 

The most powerful single individual in the European world, Pope Leo X, is declaring Martin Luther a damnable and pernicious heretic.

 

LUTHER: “—scandalous—offensive to pious ears – excommunicate --”

 

Without a complete recantation, Luther will be excommunicated, cut off from the Church, his body and soul condemned to the fires of hell.

 

SFX: incoherent angry shouting, sounds of burning under the narration

 

The agents of the Pope had wasted no time. They were already hurling Luther’s books into the flames. How long before they would do the same to Luther himself?

 

SFX: the fires reach a crescendo, then sudden silence.

 

There is no way of escape.

 

Luther has sixty days to recant.

 

The clock is ticking.


Douglas Bond is author of thirty-one books, including his latest release The Hobgoblins, a novel on John Bunyan, The Resistance set in enemy occupied Normandy, and many others. He is two-time Grace Award book finalist; he directs the Oxford Creative Wraditing Master Class, is an award-winning teacher, podcaster, speaker at conferences, and leader of Church history tours in Europe. He is currently reading Luther In Love aloud on his podcast. Visit his website bondbooks.net 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

THE HOBGOBLINS--Now Available for Preorder!

I am delighted to announce the release of my latest book, THE HOBGOBLINS, a novel on John Bunyan. I managed to write the first draft in a whirlwind of only seven weeks--right in the early weeks of the pandemic hysteria

I thought I loved John Bunyan before writing The Hobgoblins, but now I love him to an incalculable degree. His entire life is an enactment of God's way in the gospel: God chooses the foolish to confound the wise (I Cor 1), the younger brother over the elder, the things that are of no account and are mocked and scorned by the world--these are precious in the sight of our God and Savior.


That was Bunyan, a poor, peasant tinker, with little formal education, surrounded by the Puritan age, an age of great piety, of great learning and erudition, and of great literary accomplishment. And along comes humble Bunyan, his life transformed by the power of the gospel, and, undaunted, he preaches, and suffers, and writes, including penning the best-selling book of all time (next to the English Bible), never out of print since 1678, The Pilgrim's Progress (ignore JK Rowling claims to have exceeded Bunyan; it took her seven books to his one; that's not how it works).

Some of my readers may wonder where on earth I got a title like The Hobgoblins; some may even be offended by the title. Like everything else in my newest historical fiction book set in 17th century Elstow and Bedford, I plundered Bunyan's own writings and vocabulary. In his classic Pilgrim Hymn, sung by Valiant-for-Truth in the second book of Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan includes the lines:

“Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit;
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit!”

So, if you don't like the word Hobgoblins, I invite you to take it up with Bunyan himself! 

Having taught Pilgrim's Progress and Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners for many years, I have long wanted to write a book about Bunyan, but other projects always seemed to get in the way. Until God ordained a pandemic and the residual lock down and and suspension of ordinary life (little did I know then just how much suspension of ordinary life it would be for me). My travel schedule halted abruptly, and so I decided that now was the time to write on Bunyan. There was something else going on in my mind too. Because Bunyan is so important to the Church, I wanted this book to be my very best work, so I kept deferring it, pushing it forward, hoping to be the best writer I could be before taking it on, stalling, procrastinating--whatever it was. Until now. 

Musing on my best way to write the book, I finally hit on the idea of starting with Elstow Abbey today and a real person, my good friend Licensed Lay Minister, John Hinson who agreed to have something of a bit more than a cameo appearance in the opening chapters of the book. That is, until he takes a significant tumble down the narrow circular stairway up the 13th century bell tower next to the Abbey, and in his steepling plunge unearths a tin box containing a manuscript. Readers of Hostage Lands and The Betrayal are thinking, he's done this before. Yes, but not since 2009, and as those are two of my best-selling books, I decided it was time again. The story unfolds from the pen of Harry Wylie, a fellow rogue in blasphemy with Bunyan in their youth, and a man Bunyan actually mentions once in Grace Abounding, every writer of historical fiction's dream character. Harry goes on to be the benevolent jailer later in the story, but, convinced that people don't change, he was always bewildered by his friend, especially Bunyan's intrepid stand against bishops, episcopal church government, magistrates, and King Charles II. With increased secular pressures against Christians and the Church today, there are enormous implication from Bunyan's stand before kings and magistrates, suffering in prison for conscience sake in the 17th century, and our call to honor the king and to obey God rather than man in our own day.

If you would like to listen to me reading a sample chapter (4) from the book click here. While you're there, please subscribe and share the site with your friends and family. 

Today is the day! Pre-release day of The Hobgoblins! Every preorder will receive a free copy of my RISE & WORSHIP New Reformation Hymns album. AND! The first ten book orders today will receive a 2-for-1, 2 signed copies of THE HOBGOBLINS, the second copy for you to give to a family adversely impacted by the pandemic and the lock down. 

 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

When and How Do Christians Protest Against Injustice?

Why does God choose the foolish to confound the wise?
We've seen protests in the streets of cities all across American in the last week, protests that have erupted into mayhem and violence, more evil, more injustice, and more death.

I am unapologetically a Protestant Christian, finding my spiritual and theological roots in the Protestant Reformation. Did you notice the word protest in the word Protestant? When and how do Christians go about taking their stand, protesting against falsehood, injustice, and evil? I've been thinking a great deal about this in the last two months as I have been writing about the life of John Bunyan. 

The last seven weeks have been an absolute delight for me as a writer. I thought I loved John Bunyan before writing The Hobgoblins of John Bunyan, but now I love him to an incalculable degree. His entire life is an enactment of God's way in the gospel: God chooses the foolish to confound the wise (I Cor 1), the younger brother over the elder, the things that are of no account and are mocked and scorned by the world--these are precious in the sight of our God and Savior.

That was Bunyan, a poor, peasant tinker, with little formal education, surrounded by the Puritan age, an age of great piety, of great learning and erudition, and of great literary accomplishment. And along comes humble Bunyan, his life transformed by the power of the gospel, and, undaunted, he preaches, and suffers, and writes, including penning the best-selling book of all time (next to the English Bible), never out of print since 1678 (ignore JK Rowling claims to have exceeded Bunyan; it took her seven books to his one; that's not how it works).

Some of my readers may wonder where on earth I got a title like The Hobgoblins of John Bunyan; some may even be offended by the title. Like everything else in the forthcoming new historical fiction book set in 17th century Elstow and Bedford, I plundered Bunyan's own writings and vocabulary. In his classic Pilgrim Hymn, sung by Valiant-for-Truth in the second book of Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan includes the lines:

“Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit;
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit!”

So, if you don't like the word Hobgoblins, I invite you to take it up with Bunyan himself. 

Having taught Pilgrim's Progress and Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners for many years, I have long wanted to write a book about Bunyan, but other projects always seemed to get in the way. Until God ordained a pandemic and the residual lock down and and suspension of ordinary life. My travel schedule halted abruptly, and so I decided that now was the time to write on Bunyan. There was something else going on in my mind too. Because Bunyan is so important to the church, I wanted this book to be my very best work, so I kept deferring it, pushing it forward, hoping to be the best writer I could be before taking it on, stalling, procrastinating--whatever it was. Until now. 

Musing on my best way to write the book, I finally hit on the idea of starting with Elstow Abbey today and a real person, my good friend Licensed Lay Minister, John Hinson who agreed to have something a bit more than a cameo appearance in the opening chapters of the book. That is, until he takes a significant tumble down the narrow circular stairway up the 13th century bell tower next to the Abbey, and in his steepling plunge unearths a tin box containing a manuscript. Readers of Hostage Lands and The Betrayal are thinking I've done this before. Yes, but not since 2009, and as those are two of my best-selling books, I decided it was time again. The story unfolds from the pen of Harry Bayly, a fellow rogue in blasphemy with Bunyan in their youth, and a man Bunyan actually mentions once in Grace Abounding, every writer of historical fiction's dream character. Harry goes on to be the benevolent jailer later in the story, but, convinced that people don't change, he was always bewildered by his friend, especially Bunyan's intrepid stand against bishops, episcopal church government, magistrates, and King Charles II. With increased secular pressures against Christians and the Church today, there are enormous -implication from Bunyan's stand before kings and magistrates, suffering in prison for conscience sake in the 17th century, and our call to honor the king and to obey God rather than man in our own day.

If you would like to listen to me reading a sample chapter (4) from the book click here. I invite you to listen to The Revolt, God's Servant Job, and The Resistance read by yours truly by clicking on the read aloud image on the home page at bondbooks.net. While you're there, please subscribe and share the site with your friends and family. Watch for more news about the release of The Hobgoblins of John Bunyan and how you can preorder your own signed copy.

Douglas Bond is author of thirty books, including The Resistance set in enemy occupied Normandy, and two-time Grace Award book finalist; he directs the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class, is an award-winning teacher, podcaster, speaker at conferences, and leader of Church history tours in Europe. Visit his website for special buy-3-get-1-free book deals and study guides at bondbooks.net

Monday, April 6, 2020

What the Pandemic Teaches Us About Hymnals and Congregational Singing


Singing together in our living room yesterday (Palm Sunday) during the ongoing pandemic, it occurred to me just how difficult it is to replicate the entertainment ethos in our living rooms--no soloists "leading" us, no band, no amplifiers, no voice enhancement technology, no mood lighting, in some cases, no fog machine. How did the underground house churches do it? How do they do church in Nigeria or North Korea without the hipster band? The following is an excerpt from GOD SINGS! my new release on recovering the biblical ethos of worship in our congregational singing: 

GONE AWAY HYMNAL

A
 dear pastor friend of mine, lamenting the loss of hymnals in so many churches, refers to lyrics projected up on a screen as “off-the-wall songs.” He’s not a fan. But the popular trend is definitely against him. Most churches see it as a giant step forward to leave their hymnals moldering in the basement of the church, relics of a bygone era, and good riddance.
The rationale is that people are looking up, not fumbling with the pages of an old book. And what about the visitors, unbelievers that come to church? It’s way easier for them to just look at the words up on the screen. No hunting for the right page number. No confusing musical score to distract them. It’s huge progress to leave those hymnals behind us.
Still more, it is argued that the old hymnal doesn’t include all the cool new songs. We’re stuck singing lyrics written hundreds of years ago by a bunch of old dead guys. Ewww. The new way lets us add new songs any time we want. Just get the lyrics to the tech guys; they can plunk them into power point slides, and we can sing the latest new thing next week.

NO GATEKEEPERS
But what have we lost by giving up our hymnals? We surrendered scrutiny. Publishing a hymnal is an enormous task, requiring careful organizing of the hymns by themes and biblical texts, also requiring an editorial committee of people chosen because of their literary and theological training and experience. Hymnal editors spent years compiling the best hymns for congregations to sing.
Giving up our hymnals takes all that scrutiny away and leaves us at the mercy of the latest new songs. We need more scruples about the new material. It’s way too easy to fabricate a worship song and introduce it next Sunday; no vetting, no scrutiny, no gatekeepers, no hymnal editors.
When we abandoned our hymnals we also abandoned literary and theological standards of orthodoxy and excellence. All too often, emotional nonsense, however well-intentioned, supplants a timeless hymn like Bernard of Clairvaux’s “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” that every Christian needs to sing in corporate worship several times a year and in family worship at least as often. Instead, we endure the singing of vacuous, repetitive lyrics that fall far beneath what is appropriate and well-pleasing to God—the kind of lyrics that used to be in our hymnals because they had undergone the rigor of the centuries.
Without that rigorous scrutiny we may find ourselves joining in a catchy Disneyland song about the world singing God’s love, “and we’ll all join hands,/every woman, every man,/we’ll sing His love.” This sounds like it was penned by a universalist Unitarian worship leader. True, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God, but unbelievers won’t be joining hands and singing his love. They will be weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth at his wrath. 
The hymnal helped us learn our theology, get it not only into our heads but into our hearts. The off-the-wall-song phenomenon hastens theological decline and illiteracy, leaving us vulnerable not only to doxological drivel but to blatant doctrinal error and apostasy.

GONE AWAY BIBLE
Another yet more pernicious loss when we abandoned our hymnals for the power point projection screen, is that in doing so we abandoned our Bibles. When we have the screen up there already, and the tech guys have the power point program at their fingertips, it’s simple to project the biblical text up on the screen too. Consequently, few people bring their Bibles to church anymore. Why bother? I realize that this too is motivated by good intentions, even gospel intentions; we want visitors who are unfamiliar with a Bible to see the biblical text under consideration effortlessly, without the distraction of an actual Bible in hand.
Getting your Bible off the screen instead of from, well, the Bible, is the equivalent of taking a nutrition pill instead of pulling your chair up to the dining table and feasting on a slab of grass-fed beef steak with all the delectable accoutrements.
An unintended consequence of getting our Bible from a screen, is that many do not know how to find their way around their Bibles (many can’t even find where they last laid their physical copy of the Bible; it’s got to be here somewhere). I wonder how many millennials could even find Zephaniah 3:17, back there in the clean pages, in a physical Bible, with pages, margins, a concordance, maps—you know—a real book.
I began annotating the margins of my Bible(s) in college, cross referencing, adding hymn lyrics on similar themes, quotations from Puritans and Reformers, and other great preachers since. My Bible is precious to me. First and last, because it is the Word of God, but also, because I own it. It is the same copy of it I read over and over. It has my marginalia in it. I can reread passages that I read and dated in times of celebration and thanksgiving, and in times of grief and sorrow.
Forfeiting our hymnals in favor of an ephemeral projection screen is one of the greatest contributors to biblical illiteracy. We are no longer a generation of Bible Christians. Oh, sure, we have the app on our phones, with all the notifications popping up to distract us, but we don’t truly own our Bibles.
The loss of the Bible leaves us vulnerable to the theology of the new social revolutionaries, shouting their unflinching doctrinal priorities in our faces. One of the ways we can tell when we are being more shaped by our culture than being shapers of it, is when the Bible’s language and themes begin to sound odd to our ears, when we feel like we need to make apologies for the biblical authors, worse yet, for the Holy Spirit. They didn’t really mean to put it that way. Couldn’t they have been more sensitive to the priorities of our culture? 
This is yet another important reason the Church must continue singing the psalms and the best hymns of our spiritual forebears. Then, after our minds, hearts, and imaginations have been thoroughly shaped by biblical and historical doxology, only then are we equipped to contribute new appropriate hymns for this generation of Christ’s body to sing.  

HYMNS AS POETRY
In the course of my research, writing, and teaching about hymns over the last decades I have learned many wonderful things about hymns, hymn writers, and hymnody—and every time I open the hymnal (usually the Trinity) I learn something new.
I love singing hymns. I love the very best of our hymn lyrics from the last 1,800 years or so, and I have come more and more to love them not only as heartfelt passionate expressions of praise to God but as the best of English poetry...
Douglas Bond is author of twenty-eight books, including The Resistance set in enemy occupied Normandy, and two-time Grace Award book finalist; he directs the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class, is an award-winning teacher, podcaster, speaker at conferences, and leader of Church history tours in Europe. Visit his website for special buy-3-get-1-free book deals and study guides during the virus lock down at bondbooks.net

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Heal Us and We Shall be Healed: How our pandemic is similar to the plague in Wycliffe's day


"Lord Jesus, turn us to you, and then we shall be turned. Heal us, and we shall be truly whole. For without your grace and help no man may be truly turned or healed." John Wycliffe
The following is an excerpt from chapter 15 or THE REVOLT, my novel set in Wycliffe's 14th century England. Listen daily to my read aloud of The Revolt at bondbooks.net.
...Over the next weeks, I came to know fear. Like I had never known it before, I came to feel it gnawing deeply within my bosom. I lay awake in my bunk at night, my stomach churning, wondering who was next. Which one of us would be the next to die? I clamped my hands over my ears in an attempt to block out the cries of other people's terror, the wails of their denial when first they discovered the dreaded buboes on their glands. I was in torment.

My mind cast about for some solace, to make sense of it all. Was it the especially bad ones who died first in a pestilence? I felt it must be so. So I determined to be good, to pray, to confess, to give alms, anything to win the favor of God and avoid dying. I made promises to God if he would spare me. I begged. I cajoled. I cried and wept and begged some more. I feared dying like I feared nothing in all the world. Death hung all about me. I could think of nothing else.
It was when Alfred stopped jesting, and I first saw real fear in his eyes, that my horror was complete. Everyone had their cure and clutched at the tiniest thread of hope. For Alfred it was fresh strew on the floor. For others it was leeches; it was beer, specially brewed with certain herbs; it was flight. Everyone cast about for something on which to pitch their hope. Hope that plague would pass them by. Hope that it would lay hold of another. Hope that they had done something good enough that the death angel would pass over them and fall upon some other soul--but not on them.
Some blamed it on the conjunctions of heavenly bodies, some claimed it was caused by the winds bringing foul contagion from the French, others said it was the street filth, still others said it was from the rats, and the horrible stench they gave off in death, the miasmas from their rotting flesh. Furiously we dug holes and entombed rats--hundreds of rats.
Still others claimed the contagion was from the wrath of the Almighty for our sins. And so I fortified my efforts, renewed my determination to put off my sins, vigorously bent my will to doing good works that would appease the wrath of God, divert his rage from me to fall upon my less-vigilant neighbor, so I hoped, and so I labored to outdo my neighbor in being good.
Then the news arrived, bitter news it was to me. Thomas Bradwardine, newly installed archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor Profundus himself had succumbed to plague. I cannot describe the gut-wrenching torments of the days that I endured after hearing the news. If such a one as His Holiness, Thomas Bradwardine, fell under the dreaded curse of the pestilence and died of plague—who could escape?
Despair followed, despair and still more dread, a fear I could taste, the only taste I had in those months. My breathing came in shallow gasps, and I never felt I was getting enough air inside me. I vacillated from frequent and minute inspection of my armpits and groin for buboes, to supreme avoidance, never once in a day, in a week, so much as touching myself. As the death toll mounted, and new reports of the afflicted and the dying came to my ears, I fell into the very dregs of despondency.
Most people stayed indoors, fearing contact with other human beings, ones who might be carrying the disease, paralyzed with the fear of breathing miasmas from the pestilence in the street. The wealthier fled to the countryside leaving the poorer people to take the brunt of the plague on themselves and on their children. Those who had silver, the priests and friars--many of them, though not all--were first to turn their backs and flee. Their money could buy for them lodging far from the dreaded contagion. While their flocks faced the agonies of dying alone, of perishing in unresolved iniquities, safe from it all they would live, take their ease, and be merry.
It was during these months of pestilence that the first seeds of resentment toward the clergy began germinating in my heart. I had, heretofore, pushed such thoughts aside with violence. That now ended. As I watched yet another of my fellows gasping for his final breaths, his eyes casting about in horror, the frantic clutching of his fingers at the bed clothes, the sheen of sweat and blood on his brow, the blackness closing in, the cries, the moans--I felt that I hated all friars and their kind still the more for their abandonment. And then I feared it was a mortal sin to hate them, and surely I would be damned for it.
I could discover but one source of comfort during those horrific months. My school fellow John of Wycliffe. His was imperfect comfort, to be sure; death was soul-numbingly real, and he had his own fears. I observed, however, that he faced the imminent horrors of plague like few other men. He seemed at his best when on his knees. Make no mistake, I prayed. I prayed like I had never prayed before. But I prayed as an act, a good work by which I desperately hoped to win the favor of the Almighty. My attempts at praying were poor, infrequent, and, at times, nothing short of hysterical. At other times, when I managed to calm myself sufficiently, I made to ape the pious incantations I had heard recited since my boyhood in church. I clung to the hope that God would deliver me by these my praying efforts.
But John of Wycliffe's praying was of another order. One morning in November of 1348, I awoke to hear him at his bedside. I propped myself up on an elbow and studied him as he did it. I confess that my motive was to learn from his method, from his technique, and thereby improve my chances with the Almighty.
Douglas Bond is author of twenty-eight books, including The Resistance set in enemy occupied Normandy, and two-time Grace Award book finalist; he directs the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class, is an award-winning teacher, podcaster, speaker at conferences, and leader of Church history tours in Europe. Visit his website for special buy-3-get-1-free book deals and study guides during the virus lock down at bondbooks.net

Monday, March 16, 2020

Plague, Leeches, and Raw Fear

By the Death Bed, 1896 by Edvard Munch

I have this annoying mannerism; when I'm anxious about something, I catch myself licking my lips. Licked lips get chapped. Mine are pretty chapped right now, more so than usual. I don't know about you, but I've undergone a series of changes in my thinking and feeling about the global coronavirus pandemic. 

First I was pretty cavalier and dismissed the whole thing as a product of media withdrawals after the impeachment frenzy, a media now bored with the race (more of a stagger) for the Democratic nomination; the virus provided a novel, scary story to improve ratings, but nothing really to worry about. As things escalated here in my own region--Seattle, Washington being an epicenter of the US cases and deaths--I found a degree of comfort in the initial fact that the majority of cases and deaths were isolated mostly to the elderly and infirm in one nursing home (I didn't consider myself either elderly or infirm). Then I resorted to tallying the statistics on how many more people died of flu this winter than have died globally from coronavirus. 

My attitude toward the virus began to change when I received the first cancellation notification from a speaking engagement where I was scheduled to be key note. And then another speaking cancellation came from a large conferences where we sell more books than any other single venue each year. And then President Trump restricted travel from Europe, and next day, from the United Kingdom. With that news, I was forced to cancel/postpone my Oxford Creative Writing Master Class (we had already cancelled the Rome to Geneva Tour). Now the pandemic was seriously hitting my schedule and our family finances. Then the rush on toilet paper, shortages, long lines, and store closures (a sneak preview of a Bernie presidency). Now in Washington State, by order of our governor, all restaurants and coffee shops are closed, as are libraries, schools, gyms, even churches with more than fifty congregants are closed. We are in lock down.

Which gets back to my chapped lips. This is not the first pandemic in the history of the world, nor am I the first person with chronic chapped lips. Before modern medicine (which is scrambling to figure this disease out), how did people in the past manage their fears during pestilence and plague?

In the following excerpt from my historical novel The Revoltset in John Wycliffe's 14th century England, my characters stare wide-eyed as the Black Death descends on the terrified occupants of Oxford and unleashes its deadly work:
...I studied the puncture where the leech had drawn his blood. “Will it work?” I asked as we walked down the street back to the hall.

“I say we do an experiment,” said Alfred. “When the pestilence hits Oxford, we’ll watch and see. If it gets you and you die but I live, then I guess we’ll both know that the leech did his work. If we both die of plague, well, we’ll be forced to admit that I just wasted a handful of silver, and we’ll need to be more prudent with our resources in future.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “How can you jest about such things?”

Alfred grinned. “Someone’s got to do the jesting around here.”

So discomfited was I by the friar’s forebodings, and by Alfred’s airy manner at it all, my usual vigilance to avoid street filth slackened. Beneath my feet I suddenly felt an object unlike the usual substances littering the street. This was not slimy underfoot like most street filth encountered on the streets of Oxford. I recoiled. This was firm, but gave way underfoot—and it was still warm. I bent low to discover what it was.

Both Alfred and John turned back. “What is it?” asked Alfred.

“A rat,” I said, my voice little more than a croak. “A d-dead rat.”

14
The Leech

Willard was not easily frightened. After what he had experienced in the Gallia wars, a stony hardness had settled in. Encircled by the fortification of that hardness, he rarely allowed himself to succumb to fear. But when he heard the friar in the square in Oxford that day, describing the horrors of the plague, the hardness weakened, the barrier began to crack, and he felt a constricting of the muscles in his neck, a shortness of breath, a rapid thundering of the beating place in his breast. Try as he might, he could not fend off the rising anxiety planted in his bosom by the words of the friar.

He found his fingers running inadvertently to his underarms, to his groin area, touching, feeling, inspecting for the dreaded buboes. Yet was it not entirely fair to describe Willard’s fears in this selfish fashion. More than for himself, he feared for his mother, and for Beatrix. With a grimness born of desperation and something deeper that eluded Willard’s understanding, he was determined to find a way to protect his family from the dreaded pestilence. Whatever the cost, he was determined.

“Whoa!” he called to Rosemary and Sage. Amidst the creaking of cartwheels and the blowing of the oxen, he halted at the quarry in Headington. A pond had formed where he had for over a year now been quarrying rough stone. Though he didn’t entirely believe all the friar had said, the man’s words had assisted in forming an idea in his mind. Willard sat at the base of a willow tree. Leaning against the rough bark of its trunk, he unlaced his shoes and rolled up the legs of his trousers. The willow stood at the south end of the pond, and in the shade of its drooping branches, green slime had formed on the surface of the water. Gingerly, Willard stepped into the cool water. A shudder ran through his frame. He didn’t like placing his feet in water covered with slime. He could not see what lurked beneath the surface. Wading in up to his mid thighs, he stopped and waited. What would it feel like? He wondered. And how long would it take?

After a long day of walking and working, the cool water at first felt refreshing on his feet and toes. After a half an hour his feet began to feel numb—but that was all he had felt. When he could stand it no longer, he waded back to the mud at the edge of the pond. As he began rolling his trousers over his damp legs, he halted. In the cup formed by the bending place in back of his left knee was the black slimy body of a leech. Lowering his trousers carefully over the sucking creature, he smiled with satisfaction. He had gone fishing for leeches, his own blood as bait. It had worked. Who needed silver to buy the friar’s leeches from Transylvania? The last thing he wanted was to put silver coins back in the hands of a friar.

Careful not to disturb the blood-letting creature, Willard unharnessed and fed the oxen, bedding them down for the night in Squire Reginald’s barn. As he walked through the hovels that stood off from the manor house, he was not met by the usual bustle of his neighbors. There were dogs, and chickens, and goats, and Widow Hannah’s large cat rubbed against his leg, her gray striped tail twitching for attention. But there were no children at play, no men carrying fuel for their cooking fire, no housewives tossing seed to their chickens. He saw no one. Puzzled, he entered the low doorway of his family’s bower.

“Have you heard?” cried his mother, gripping his shoulders.

Willard eyed her cautiously. How much had she heard? He looked about the bower. There was no sign of Beatrix. He had hoped to keep word of the pestilence from his family. There was no sense in raising their anxiety. The more knowledge, the more grief; the less they knew the better. But from his mother’s wide eyes and the creases in her brow, and the trembling of her hands, he feared she knew all.

“Does Beatrix know?” he asked.

“She’ll have heard,” said his mother. “The whole manor’s heard. What shall we do?” she moaned. “We must pray,” she added, answering her own question.

Willard scowled. Friars prayed. And no doubt the folks in Southampton and Bristol had done more than their share of praying. Little good it had done them. He’d leave praying to others. He had his own plans.

“Word is that it’s the stars,” she went on, stirring the pottage simmering over the coals. “The pestilence is brung on by the conjunctification of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars.”

“And who was it that told you so?” asked Willard, looking hard at his mother.

“The gray friar passing through this morning,” she said, wiping her hands over her apron. “He said it’s so.”

“Did you give him silver?” said Willard.

She spun around, busying herself with the pot.

“Did you, then?” he pressed her.

“He promised us ever so many years off purgatory, did he,” she said, the water rising in her eyes. “And what good’ll silver do us when the plague overtakes us?”

“What good’ll our silver do friars and all their money-grubbing kind when plague o’er takes them? Priests and the like die of plague as well, they do. The very scoundrels that tell us to set our hearts on the life to come, seem most of all men to have set theirs on this one. I’m no scholar. I just cart stone to Oxford. But I know this much: friars who terrify us with news of plague and death and then fleece us of our little silver for their paper forgiveness, men who do such things are nothing but low-down cheats. I put no stock in the likes of them friars.”

He paused for breath. It was more words than Willard was used to putting together at one time. His mother buried her face in her apron and collapsed onto a stool.

Willard watched a spark from the coals meander upward and out the hole in the roof. Why had he gone and upset her? He dropped to one knee beside her stool and drew his mother to himself;[J3] , her shoulders rose and fell with her sobs.

“Trust me, Mother,” he said, patting her shoulder. “I have a plan. You need not fear. I’ll save us from plague. You’ll see. You’ll see.”

“How, then, will you do it, Brother?”

Willard looked up and stood to his feet. Without his hearing her, Beatrix had entered the bower. Her cheeks were the color of the wild roses that bloom in the hedgerows, and she cradled a sheaf of oxeye daisies in her arm.

“How then will you go about saving us?” she asked again, her eyes dancing.

It was precisely the question he had begun asking himself. Whether from the heat near the coals, or from having its fill of Willard’s blood, the leech that had attached itself to his leg let go its grip. Willard felt its release like the pricking of a Hawthorne on his flesh. Pulling up his trousers, he took the oily black creature in his hands and held it for his sister and mother to see. “With this,” he said simply.

Douglas Bond is author of twenty-eight books, including The Resistance set in enemy occupied Normandy, and two-time Grace Award book finalist; he directs the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class, is an award-winning teacher, podcaster, speaker at conferences, and leader of Church history tours in Europe. Visit his website for special buy-3-get-1-free book deals and study guides during the virus lock down at bondbooks.net