By Joan Bay Klope
Fourteen months ago I watched my dad coach his last high school cross country event before passing away six days later from complications associated with advanced pancreatic cancer. One of the legacies of my experience is a new urgency to make everyday a fruitful experience and be able to say to myself, as I lay my head down on my pillow each night, that I was able to accomplish something that I consider meaningful.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a natural tendency to take life very seriously. There is a melancholy component to my personality. I want fun to be part of each day and I absolutely love to laugh, but I distinctly recall Frank Allison, a treasured high school instructor of mine, describe me as an “old soul” at 18.
He was right.
I’m also one who feels successful when I make a list and cross items off that list by day’s end. I’m task oriented and feel deeply content when I accomplish something. I’m A-OK if I plan a lazy day and do very little, as long as I planned my laziness. But if I make plans and get waylaid by competing values, human systems, or events I consider to be unnecessary detours, I experience frustration until I find a way to regroup.
This profound urgency goes way beyond a desire to be busy. I want my activities to make a difference and I remember that Dad was granted 79 years to accomplish his dreams and experience life here with his family and friends. These days I’m all about capturing a vision, making plans, and m-o-v-i-n-g because I’m don’t know how long my life will be.
I am, therefore, fascinated by people who are highly accomplished. I seek to understand what motivates them, how they organize their endeavors, and broaden their borders. If their life’s work is geared to finding ways to make life better for those around them, I’m all the more interested.
Earl Anthony Cooper, an Anglican Parliament member better known by historians as “Lord Shaftesbury,” was such a man. He lived 200 years ago in England, but don’t let his antiquity allow you to dismiss him simply because we live in the 21st century. His issues are our issues.
I love history, but Lord Shaftesbury is not somebody I discovered on my own. His story is also an inspiration to Dr. Ray Bakke, the noted church historian, pastor, author, distinguished professor of global urban ministry, and chairman of the Board of Regents at Bakke Graduate University of Ministry in Seattle. Invited recently to hear Dr. Bakke speak, I learned that while Shaftesbury suffered from periods of deep depression resulting from a childhood characterized by extreme neglect, he was able to transform his experiences into powerful social change. Upon entering Parliament as an evangelical Christian, he sympathized with and worked on behalf of those who suffered around him. He incorporated his personal faith in a loving God with his work to create public policy that historians say improved the lives of hundreds of thousands and eased class tensions.
He described his work simply as a “living faith.”
What kind of work did he do? When he became aware that children were a tortured and exploited portion of the workforce, he sponsored the Ten Hours Bill that limited the number of hours each day a child could be compelled to work. He created legislation to end the practices of forcing small women and children to haul coal and pump water naked, in virtual underground darkness. Boys were freed from work as chimney sweeps thanks to his work. He founded the “Ragged School” movement that created the first public schools for the education of commoners. He also created the first Christian mental health hospital and designed modern sewer systems that prevented a major cholera outbreak. He advocated for improved housing for the poor and directed the building of the first Christian mental health hospital for those needing in-house treatment.
At Lord Shaftesbury’s state funeral hundreds of thousands of England’s poor lined the streets of the funeral procession, standing hatless in a show of respect during a driving rain storm. Mocked by some, beloved by others, he lived the life of several men and changed the course of history.
Overcomer. Servant. Revolutionary. Visionary. Faithful. Determined. One man with a heart connection to the God of Love.
Draw near, Lord.
Teach us how to make our lives count.
May your dreams become our dreams.
May our lives grow deeper in their significance
and broader in their reach.