Do you prefer taking the easy way or the hard way…

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(An iron cross sits in the cemetery of Saint Cóemgen’s better known as St Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Given the current mess throughout this world of ours…
the fighting, the dying, the martyrdom,
the lack of choice, the excess of choice, the lack of tolerance the overt tolerance,
the whole “she said, he said” tit for tat bickering and feuding over beliefs…who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s in, who’s out, who’s with, who’s against, is it a yes or is it a no…or is it or else…

Is it then any wonder that so many folks around this globe claim to be either atheist or agnostic or something else entirely… sans any sort of deity or set belief system…?! As if believing in nothing or, say a tree, would be easier than believing in a deity that requires a great deal of follower…or seems to be the very reason for all the current ruckus in the world…?!

Anyone looking closely enough would be hard pressed not to understand why, given the sad plight of so very many people globally who are displaced, living under cruel regimes, suffering from disease, hunger, homelessness, isolation, torture, loss, fear… with nary a ray of hope in sight….that there is such a deep mistrust and skepticism when none of those folks who profess to be followers of the All knowing and All caring come to offer aid, succor, comfort, help, assistance, support or relief yet rather choose to squabble, bicker, fuss, cuss, fight, kill and destroy one another….

Is it any wonder that folks find it difficult believing in as well as following Something or Someone they’ve never seen, spoken to face to face, touched, hugged, shaken hands with, shared a meal with or simply hung out with…

Yet that’s exactly what those who believe in a monotheistic “god” do…they believe in the unbelievable while they, those very believers, are to be the living embodiment of that monotheistic Deity by giving others a glimpse as to whom and what that monotheistic “God” is all about….compassion, caring, trust, integrity, honesty…

We, the body of believers, must ask ourselves…are we doing a good job at such?
And if we answer no… then we must ask ourselves—why not?

Yet those of us who do believe, who have chosen to follow the Son of that very Deity… the One True God, have chosen what seems to be the most difficult task in a world of ever growing disbelief, mistrust, skepticism, resentment and down rate hatred… to believe and follow when a world turns in the opposite direction.

Staring down the barrel of a loaded gun or on your knees with hands tied behind your back as a sword is raised at your head or as you’re being hoisted up a tree with a rope around your neck or as you lay on the ground with a cold knife pressing into your neck as you’re asked one simple question—a question between life and death…”are you a Christian??”
with the easy answer being “NO!”

Yet those who have chosen the harder path, the path less traveled by the world resoundingly respond…
“YES!”

Do you prefer easy or hard?

The advent of Advent

The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, come into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.
~ C.S. Lewis

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(a golden red carpet / Cades Cove, TN / The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

Advent—the season of waiting, watching and expectancy…

As in waiting and watching with expectant anticipation.

With the anticipation being so wonderful, so indescribable, so over the top…you can barely contain yourself.

This is not the worrisome dreading sort of waiting.
Not the “oh no we’ll never make it” gloom and doom of the negative waiting.
Not the looking constantly over your shoulder with fear rising up from the pit of your stomach while you fret waiting for the other shoe to drop sort of the anxious dreading type of waiting, watching, looking, fretting and worrying…

This is rather the so great and so grand magnificent, I can’t wait, I’m so excited, as this is going to be really really good and really really big…full of sheer giddiness that I’m about to explode sort of joyful waiting and watching…

As in I can’t wait because there is going to be such wonder, relief and good things that all thoughts of bad, negative, dread and woe are simply nonexistent…

Yet is this the season that you’re all excited and giddy over because of the getting and receiving of more stuff? The I can’t wait to go to the mall and bask in the holiday specialness and magic of mega retail savviness sort of excited…??
Is it because this is the season you’ve long waited for because of the gathering and the getting of those gifts and presents and all manner of things that you’ve decided you just can’t live without sort of season…??

Is it the season that you’ve been long waiting and watching for as your calendar will now be filling up with all manner of parties, gatherings, galas and events offering the excuse of buying shiny and sparkly outfits with the expectancy of seeing and being seen while you imagine all the goodies to be sampled and savored…??

Is your watchfulness, your waiting, your expectancy over those things of this planet, this world, this generation’s idea of a good time?

Or is your watchfulness, your waiting, your expectancy over something else?
Something that is much bigger, more awesome, more unimaginable and more over the top than any of things of this life…those things and events which pale in comparison as they are simply fleeting and merely passing by…

For there is something really big and really monumental that is soon to be taking place
and those of us who wait, who watch, who look, who anticipate, who are full of expectancy, wonder and awe…. are not to be disappointed…

“God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

Hidden support along one’s way…

“If then we have angels, let us be sober, as though we were in the presence of tutors; for there is a demon present also.”
― John Chrysostom

Human beings, when confronted with the strange and inexplicable, have an immediate instinct to get back to the accustomed and the normal. We do not hug our miracles close; we put them hastily away, preferring the commonplace to live with it. It is as if some compulsive hand wipes clean the wall on which the handwriting appeared.” Fulton Oursler

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(Cherub relief found within St Colmcille Church, Dumcliff / County Sligo, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

The journey has been long as you now find yourself winded,
growing more and more weary with the setting of each day’s sun…
Thoughts of tomorrow and one more day are almost more than you can bear.
The energy and the strength, which were once easily called upon at will…
simply no longer available.

Maligned
Belittled
Mocked
Forgotten
Tired
Weary
Empty

Yet pressing on is really the only option…
Business as usual as you wade through the motions of the routine
Can you bear to manage one more season?

The joy has faded into the common
The noise of the worldly drowns out the sublime
Too much, too little, too late, too soon

The secular now shines the brightest
With your frustration overshadowed by the Darkness.
Hopefulness waits at the window staring out onto the confusion

An unseen hand is offered when most needed
A smile appears to fend off the cold
The chill is thwarted by the inviting fire
Encouragement offers a welcoming blanket

This journey has long been previously traveled,
As comfort resides in the familiar.
There are no surprises to the unseen…
No hurdles that haven’t been previously crossed.
There are those who have gone before you…
and those who will continue to come from behind.
The journey is never really lonely

As we never travel truly alone…

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:12-19

#OPTOUTSIDE (ps. I don’t tweet)

“Whenever you go out-of-doors, draw the chin in, carry the crown of the head high, and fill the lungs to the utmost; drink in the sunshine; greet your friends with a smile, and put soul into every handclasp…”
Elbert Hubbard

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(Killarney National Park, The Ring of Kerry, County Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Most of you know I’m not a participant with this whole social media business…
This little blog being my sole contribution…
And whereas I am not a big fan of this global obsession, I was however taken aback recently by something that quickly caught my eye…

Most of you know that I also despise this whole “black friday” materialistic consumerism fanatical obsession business that is sadly indicative of our country’s “gotta see it, gotta have it” shopping and gathering addiction—a time when “normal” folks turn into “zombiesque” crazy people who think standing in long lines, pushing and shoving at the crack of dawn, or the wee hours of the night, while waiting to “get a deal” which if the truth be told is really no deal at all as you should begin to consider the mark up of everything you want….is the quintessential good time idea of Thanksgiving….

Somewhere along the line someone has fed us all a crock of crap trying to tie in manic behavior with a day that was originally set aside for all of us Americans to remember what it is that we are truly thankful for….

enter the tweet—- #OPTOUTSIDE

REI, a national outdoor enthusiast shopping haven has taken a bold step this “black” Friday and I for one applaud them wholeheartedly.
This large-scale retail business type company, who would normally be setting up their door-busters, their markdowns, their sale items, their on-line cyber sales, their sea of employees hired to handle the onslaught of shoppers… yada yada yada…., are closing all their stores nationwide Friday with the hashtag line of “opt outside”

The gist being—they are encouraging everyone to stop the madness—
Rather than heading out for hours on end, shopping till you drop, thinking you have to have these items for survival, thinking that you’re saving and beating the markup game, leaving friends and loved ones in your wake as the dust flies off your wheels as you race out of the house to the mall…spending countless hours caught in traffic, spending money you really shouldn’t waste, circling like a buzzard in search of parking, lingering in lines for hours with folks who will quickly push and shove you out of their way…are instead encouraging everyone to head outside to the great out of doors in order to try something new and novel—-enjoying being outside.
You remember–fresh air, Mother Nature, up, out and moving…

May we all consider what is our true priority this holiday season…

http://optoutside.rei.com/join-us/

Thanksgiving prayer

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(a pair of wild turkeys alert and hiding out in a mountain field / Cades Cove, TN / The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

(prayer of Thanksgiving /
The Book of Common Prayer / The Episcopal Church)

But we have flowers…

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 19:14

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(flowers for sale along Grafton St. Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

I don’t know if you have had an opportunity to see the video clip of the conversation between young Brandon Le and his father, Angel Le.
The Le’s are french citizens living in Paris. Angel had brought young Brandon, a preschooler, out to see first hand the growing memorial of flowers and candles…in hopes that young Brandon could better process the city’s recent tragic events.
The conversation is both heartwarming and encouraging—
May we all remember that we have flowers…..

Bear ye one another’s burdens

“It is easy to tell the toiler
How best he can carry his pack
But no one can rate a burden’s weight
Until it has been on his back”
― Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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(memorial of St Christopher carrying the Christ Child dedicated to Willian Connor of the 1st Dublin Company, the Boy’s Brigade , located in St Patrick’s Cathedral / Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

In yesterday’s post I reflected on the abstract idea of thankfulness and gratitude—that sublime ability to feel and experience a personal and intrinsic sincere gratitude and thankfulness within ones life—Of which is just another piece of the puzzle to understanding the gaping divide between those associated with groups such as ISIS, Islamic or other militant groups set on death, mayhem and destruction.

And it should be noted that such a thought is not to be considered and taken as being overtly simple, idealistic or naive…as most would find such an observation exactly to be when comparing such violent groups quest for the general populace of whom seems to be their key target. It is but one small observation of the current state of turmoil which is circling around the world of the us and the thems…as it seems to be just one glaring missing component in one of the two divided camps—the true sense of joy, gratitude and thankfulness of simply living our lives that the majority of us feels verses the cold hearts of the thems…

And whereas it is easy to sit back with the countless numbers of officials and
powers-that-be who are currently grappling with figuring out / understanding the reasons and the whys—as in why are “they” so hell bent on causing misery, woe, mayhem, destruction and death for and to the rest of us…as in what is their angle, their desired end result…as don’t all groups who set out on some sort of quest have a desired end result…?

And as such thoughts have been coursing through our minds as of late, it is no doubt that we have all read or seen the story of the very sad and heinous tragedy that took place November 10th in Indiana—that of the young pregnant wife and mother…that the young, brightly smiling, beautiful young girl married to the young pastor who was the victim of a home invasion. She was raped then shot dead while her infant son was asleep in another room. As two others had gone to empty out the couples cash at an ATM. Not only was she victimized, brutally assaulted, raped and murdered but her unborn child was party to the brutality as well.
Two lives tragically, horribly, senselessly taken…

How are we to wrap our minds around such horrific events?

Yet we have not heard nor seen the sort of events as witnessed in other recent senseless tragedies following this such as…
National news teams have not descended upon this community.
No one has marched in protest.
No college football teams have refused to play.
No college presidents have resigned.
No police officers have been fired.
No cities looted, stormed or burned as a result.

An 18 year old boy was arrested yesterday, as two others are now being sought.

There will be those who will claim that these young men are victims as well, victims of a system that has marginalized them…
The same arguments will be raised that they are victims of race, socioeconomic positions, perhaps those from broken homes, or fatherless homes who never had the opportunities of others….
All of which–I simply refuse…I don’t buy such excuses….
For wrong is wrong and right is right and 99.9% of the time those who perpetuate such crimes are indeed aware of right and wrong—the caveat being that they simply don’t care…as their hearts are indeed cold—cold to life and cold to living, cold to justice and cold to Grace.

So rather than creating a resulting spinoff of chaos and madness as in the other recent events our country has witnessed, as if the death and loss are not chaos enough, this particular family and community are tragically left stunned and deeply hurting.

Anger is indeed the forefront resulting emotion when we face such horrors.
How could they?
How dare they?
Anger is our knee jerk reaction..

As now a young pastor and father is left to wonder, to wrestle, to question, to hurt, to ache and to grow numb…as he wrestles with his emotions…as he is left to raise his infant son alone…as he buries both his wife and unborn child.

How can a just God, a loving God, allow such…is the question we hear screaming in our heads.

And there is never a simple answer for such a question.

We live in a world of Light and Dark, Good and Bad, Holy and Evil

and we have been given a command…Bear ye one another’s burdens….

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians6:7-10