Before and after…the question

The south facade of Notre Dame before the fire…


(South exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

Now the upper portion of the same facade, after the fire…


(Associated Press)

Despite the brilliant blue sky, the delightfully warm late afternoon sun,
a heaviness continued to linger…

I dumped a portion of the hardwood chunks of charcoal into the grill then used the
lighter to ignite the charcoal.

When the soft yellow-orange glow began, I closed the lid, cracking open the vents while I
proceeded to wait.

Soon enough, I opened the lid as the flames rose while the burning wood chips popped
and crackled.

I stared down into the grill, filled with those yellow-orange licking flames,
while I purposely and intently listened to the sounds of both fire and wood.

My thoughts seemed to have gotten stuck on an unseen replay button…
replaying the scenes from yesterday’s images of both Notre Dame and of the fire.

I thought of each trip, over the past decades of my life,
that I have walked into that cavernous and overwhelmingly
historic and spiritual “house” of worship.

The sounds of my own footsteps echoing off the soaring stone walls and massive pillars
as my steps reverberated against the barrel vault high above my head.

Awe stopped me in my tracks as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting
while the hints of pungent incense lingered in my nostrils.

I grappled with the magnitude of the historical and the physical while my mind
wrapped around the Spiritual impetus for this seemingly gargantuan whale that
had suddenly swallowed me whole.

The rising flames in the grill jerked me back to the present and my need
to get about my grilling supper…

I would say that this historic and catastrophic fire is proving devastating
on a great many levels.

The world is painfully mourning an iconic cultural loss.
Paris is mourning a devastating loss of an iconic piece of her home’s heart.
As we the world mourn both an artistic and architectural loss.

The proverbial bucket list destination for tourists and one of the spiritual
pilgrimage destinations on the lists of the faithful is now forever changed…
just as much of humankind is now changed.

But what I think is even more important, the fire has shaken loose a deeply hidden
sense of loss found in most of Western Civilization…it is a loss on a subconscious level
that we’ve never been able to put our finger on…
a loss that has long existed…one we have subconsciously known
was there but yet we didn’t know.

It is the loss of our Christian Spirituality…
our Spirituality that we have allowed to slip from, not merely our
hands, but from our very psyches and souls.

Yesterday I offered a response to a friend’s comment on my day’s post regarding
the fire and that comment has now lingered in my thoughts…

“someone I was listening to last night posed the question—– and I’ll paraphrase-
‘With so much of Europe becoming so secularized—–we’re seeing these massive ancient bastions
of Christian faith becoming more and more like museums rather than houses of worship.
With everyone now clamoring to rebuild…
the question we must be asking ourselves is what are we rebuilding?

Are we rebuilding a museum that lost so much art, etc…art that can never be replaced…
or are we rebuilding a church, a house of worship?…

I find that to be the very key question for our very postmodern Christian selves”

It is not lost on me that we are in the midst of the most Holiest of weeks within
all of Christendom while in the midsts of an ever-shrinking Christian faith
in our culture.

This fire is yet another visceral image of our own human tragedy and the fall of man.

It shakes loose our hidden sense of grief and loss over our flailing and fragile faith.

Christ descended into the depths of a raging fire of our very sin…
and on the third day, He rose from those ashes…

May we now use this sense of loss and grief, allowing our faith to be rekindled as we too rise
upward out of the ashes of what has become such a sinful loss…

Loss no more..but only gain…as the spire rises again…

“So you’re giving up?
That’s it?
Okay, okay. We’ll leave you alone, Quasimodo.
We just thought, maybe you’re made up of something much stronger.”

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Adding to the pile

“In times like these, it is helpful to remember
that there have always been times like these.”

Paul Harvey
Radio Broadcaster

Our friends at The Catholic Company
have a new interesting book that they’d like to share—
BAD SHEPHERDS
The Dark Years in Which the Faithful Thrived While Bishops Did the Devil’s Work

Given these days and times of scandal, mistrust, misdeeds shrouded by pure evil,
this is a rather timely read that I’ve now added to the ever-burgeoning pile of books
calling for my attention.

The Catholic Chruch, with the clergy leading the way, has become a pariah in the minds of many.
And with this deepening distrust and disgust, the global Christian Chruch is finding herself in the
crosshairs of being guilty by association.

Here is their enticing introduction of the book…

Sexual scandals and improper behavior
among religious leaders are nothing new.

“…the smoke of Satan has entered the
temple of God,”

said Pope Paul VI.

Believe it or not, St. Peter Damian wrote about the problem of active homosexuality
among the clergy over 900 years ago.

He warned that it was
“creeping through the clerical order…like a cruel beast within the sheepfold of Christ.”

Ever since Judas betrayed his Lord, there has been sin and scandal in the Church.

But this is not the time to despair.

In his astonishing, highly revealing and sometimes amusing book,
Church historian Rod Bennett offers some much-needed perspective to give us hope.

“My research, curiously enough, soon revealed a major key running under the minor;
and this was the striking fact that the Catholic laity…
often shone brightest just when their bad shepherds were at their worst.
God, in other words, had not left Himself without a witness.”
—Author Rod Bennett

These eye-opening pages introduce a number
of bad shepherds, showing us that corrupt church
leaders have existed since Christ established
the Church—and have not prevailed.

Instead, goodness has ultimately triumphed.

You’ll read about:
Pope Stephen VII, who so hated his late predecessor that he had him dug up,
put on trial, and flung into the Tiber.

Benedict IX, who bought and sold the papacy—twice!

Pope John XII, whose debauchery rivaled that of the corrupt emperor Caligula.

And here’s the powerful thing Rob Bennet will show you:

While these leaders were doing these evil deeds,
good Catholics not only survived—–they thrived.

They transcended their bad shepherds,
preserved the traditions, and served as the
foundation for a vigorous renewal of the Faith.

By bringing to light what’s happened in the past, this enlightening book shows that
restoration and renewal can happen again!

The notion of the governing Chruch going array while the faithful remain steadfast,
reminds me of a time in the middle of the 20th century when the
German Lutheran Chruch became the state Chruch of Nazi Germany.
And in essence became a pawn of Adolf Hitler…a vocal tool condoning evil propaganda.

Hitler knew that if he really wanted to plant his corrupted seeds within the hearts of the
German people, if he had the Church’s clergy acting as cheerleaders, the German people would be
more apt to listen and agree.

Yet there were committed Lutherans (Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, with a wealth of fellow clergy,
left the state puppet church creating the defiant Confessing Chruch) along with equally defiant Catholic
clergy mounted a counter voice of Truth.

The righteous know the Truth and hold steadfast despite the blanket of evil.

And so our friend the Wee Flea is also reviewing, as well as recommending, a new book—
a book about faith and God in our current troubling times.

God is Good for You—A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times
by Greg Sheridan
A political journalist looks at the impact of Christianity in the West.

David pulls out a few quotable gems to wet our whistle.

“In Charles Murray’s seminal study of the white underclass in the US, Coming Apart,
he reports that the last thing that holds working class and impoverished communities together
is the local churches.
When they collapse, the communities collapse.

(Page 27).

Does atheism explain the universe, life, including human life, consciousness and conscience?
Hyper- rational atheism gave us Nazism and doctrinaire Soviet communism.
Ultra-rationalism does not deliver you any moral compass.

(Kevin Rudd- Page 216).

If we abandon God, and the ethical imperatives that proceed from that,
we are in danger of ending up in an amoral morass,
where the sort of technocratic debates about whether certain human beings should be regarded
as sharing a common humanity, like the Soviet purges of “enemies of the people”
or the Nazi’s belief in the expendability of certain races, most particularly Jews, become possible.
You then land in an amoral jungle, animated only by some mud- begotten social Darwinianism.
This is because there was no longer a guiding moral authority.
These regimes could “reason” their way to any conclusion.”

(Kevin Rudd – page 217).

The only truly acceptable contemporary Christianity for Western political culture now seems
to be a Christianity which doesn’t mention God and which subscribes to conventional
elite wisdom on policy issues

(page 226).

The rule of law came out of a Christian mindset and defined the West.
The enemies of the West still define the West that way. Human rights have degenerated into
identity politics.
We are living now in a post-Christian society but still living on the legacy of Christianity
and that legacy is running down.
This could end in chaos.
For society to work you’ve got to have agreement about basic rules.
You want your rights but you have your responsibilities too.
If we don’t have consensus on the basic rules are we will find it hard to live in a society with each other…
That is a matter of great concern to me. I’m very concerned about where this experiment of being
a post-Christian society will end. It’s an experiment.
We haven’t been there before.

(Peter Costello – page 229).

Christianity doesn’t seek conflict for its own sake, but if it’s to be effective it must
know that conflict is the inevitable consequence of proclaiming its message.
It is also important to have always in mind that Jesus’s two greatest commands,
which he reiterates again and again, are to love God and to love your neighbour.
This does not, however rule out ethical conflict.

(Page 319).

https://theweeflea.com/2019/01/07/god-is-good-for-you-a-defence-of-christianity-in-troubled-times-greg-sheridan/

And so we hold fast to the knowledge that, as we have seen in ages past, when the going gets tough,
we of the Faith hold to our toughness and get going…

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love,
endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence
of many witnesses.
In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus,
who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,
I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
which God will bring about in his own time—-
God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords,
who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light,
whom no one has seen or can see.
To him be honor and might forever.

Amen.
1 Timothy 6:11-16

throw it out and start all over

Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.
Meister Eckhart


(harvest time, in the dead of winter, go figure / Julie Cook / 2018)

Here in northwest Georgia, we are currently in the midst of our typical dreary Georgia winters…
grey, damp, misty, rainy and utterly foggy…
all of which gives way to just a sunless chilly dampness that gives way a heavy case
of the “meh’s”…
Not depressed but not joyful.
Not sad but not perky.

Yet despite this damp dreariness, believe it or not, all the citrus trees, that have been
moved to the basement for the season, are now bearing a plethora of fruit…
go figure!

So when life gives you an abundance of lemons in the dead of winter…
I suppose one gets busy making
something lemony.

Of which I did…today (yesterday by the time you’re reading this today)

I was going to look up lemon recipes that require a good bit of juice but I was
in the process of “migrating” again my old computer to the new computer.
It seems that the 5 hours required the other day was not enough,
I needed to add two more hours today in order to complete the “migration”…
I don’t think it takes geese that long to migrate!

Computer migration meant I wouldn’t be looking for all things lemony on the computer anytime soon
so I would be doing so with my phone instead. Sigh.

Searching, reading and squinting, I found a recipe for a lemony loaf cake that needs 1/2 cup
of fresh juice.

Perfect.

I headed to the basement in order to pluck what lemons were ripe…6 for now.
3 limes and 2 tiny calamondins.

I zested three lemons and juiced them while the butter softened.

My phone screen kept closing so I kept having to find a clean finger in order to touch the screen
and click back on the recipe.

I read over what I needed, what the oven needed to be set on and scanned over the step by steps–
in between the on and off screen…

I creamed the butter with the sugar, I added the eggs, I shifted the flour,
I measured the baking soda, baking powder, salt…
WAIT
was that 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder or
was it 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon baking powder???????

It was too late, I had gone with the first thought…
that being the full teaspoon of the baking soda and
the 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.

When I clicked my phone from black back to the recipe, I read I had reversed the two…
I tasted the batter…yuck…definitely too much soda.
The lemon juice seemed to make it start growing in the bowl.
Now I’m no chemistry major, but there was certainly a reaction beginning to react…

But what the heck, what’s 1/2 teaspoon too much??

I poured my “growing” batter into the pan…oddly it was now right at the rim and seemed
to still be growing…
I fretted what would happen when it hit the heat????

I shoved a sheet of foil underneath in case it opted to spill over.

I set the timer and quickly grabbed my phone now with two dirty hands yet full attention.

I quickly googled what happens if one adds more soda than what is called for.

All of the listed articles might as well as have had a nuclear warning sign as a header
as each one read of disaster.

The batter will taste bitter and soapy. Check
The batter will expand beyond capacity especially if an acidic base is added. Check
The batter will flow out of the pan once it’s placed in the over. Double check,

Solution…

Throw it all out and start over.

One article did advise that you could possibly double the flour, butter, eggs, sugar
and make a double batch but I wasn’t going there.

I yanked open the oven door and grabbed the now overflowing pan and headed straight to the trashcan.

I started over.

This time being careful to get my soda and powder measurement right.

I threw out 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup of lemon juice, 3 eggs, 1/2 cup of milk, 1 stick of butter,
1 Tbl of lemon zest…a huge waste but the only salvageable option.

And so as I started over from scratch on this now seemingly costly cake of mine,
I was reminded that we are currently perched on the tossing out of one year
as we prepare to start fresh on a new year.

I can honestly say that I am happy, for many reasons, to be tossing out this past year.

It’s like my batter with the too much soda, it just needs to be thrown out and started anew…
despite the seemingly lost cost.

On a personal level, this past year was a blessing in that we had great joy with the birth of this
first grandchild of ours…and the news of another one soon on his way…
As well as with the successful retiring of a 50-year business.

Yet I can’t help but think about this country of ours and of our global community.
The uncertainty.
The hatefulness.
The sinfulness.
The anger.
The turning away from our Judeo / Christian heritage.

I can only pray that God, in His Mercy, will continue to afford us His Grace…
And that He will indeed remain gracious and merciful to his wayward children.

I pray that we can hold onto a continued sense of hopefulness while we look forward to a
fresh beginning…because Lord knows, it’s time we get a brand new fresh start!
Just like my cake…that finally turned out a great success.

Here’s to a hope-filled successful new year for us all!!!

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,
that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16

tis the season or just one of those days…

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought,
doesn’t come from a store.
What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Dr. Seuss


(sterilizing The Mayor’s things in the wake of her departure / Julie Cook / 2018)

Let’s face it…we all have those days when we feel like a giraffe with our heads
stuck in a pot of boiling water.

Perhaps you’ve never looked at it that way before, but admit it, it makes perfect sense.

Maybe you’re not exactly frazzled.
Maybe you’re not terribly overwhelmed.
Maybe you’re not running behind.
Maybe you’re not stressed.
Maybe you’re not tired.
Maybe you’re not a bit melancholy.
Maybe you’re not a bit stretched.
Maybe you’re not a bit depressed.
Maybe you’re not overly busy.
Maybe you’re not apprehensive or anxious.

Maybe you’re none of those…

Maybe it’s because you’re totally overflowing with the love and joy that has come to you
from this season…as in you’ve had one too many cups of the bourbon-laced eggnog
and now you’re delusional…
or you actually managed to grab a-hold of the true meaning of Advent and this Christmas to be.

Or if the truth is told…maybe… just maybe…
you’ll admit that you’re really feeling a few of those heavier things…
Actually, maybe, you’re feeling more than a few.
Maybe you’ll admit to the truth…
you’re feeling all of those and then some!

Hence a giraffe with its head stuck in a pot of boiling water.

So good, we are now on the same page.

I was tackling the laundry yesterday in the wake of The Mayor and her two closest aides
recent visit…

When I thought that I really wanted to cook some little something that seemed
holidayish and festive.

But time…
Where was the time?

Now I’ll happily tip my hat, any day of the week,
to all those women out there who have superpowers in that they
can work outside of the home, clean their house, wash all the clothes, run all
the errands, shuttle the kids, finish the presentations and reports,
cook festive holiday goodies, complete all the shopping, decorating and wrapping
while still making time to go to the gym, write greeting cards, read a book, and post
the latest decorative things they’ve accomplished to Pinterest or Instagram.

And if your name is not Martha Stewert, you probably haven’t done half of those things,
let alone two or simply even one to the utmost of your ability.
And no fair if you have a maid, a nanny, or a small army of assistants following you around.

I actually do think that I was once able to accomplish much more when I was a
younger woman who was working outside of the house while tending to all things of the house
and raising a husband and a child.

I have no idea as to what has happened except that I simply got old.

But by George, I was determined to make something festive today if it killed me.

Every winter, I have to haul the citrus trees, that I keep in large pots
outside throughout the late Spring to early Fall, to the basement when freezing
temperatures arrive.

One tree that I’ve had now for many years has gotten so big,
that I was left with no choice other than to sacrifice it…
I can no longer move it, even with the hand trucks,
so it will be the guinea pig.

As the question remains, can a citrus tree survive a winter in Georgia?
I’ll let you know.

But the Meyer lemon tree that is now happily safe and sound in the basement,
is loaded with ripening lemons. It’s not looking too good as they don’t like
an abrupt change in climate but the looming question…
what am I to do now with all those lemons??

I opted for a tried and true southern favorite recipe…something that makes me always think
of my mom…
That being lemon squares.

Not the most festive perhaps but they are relatively easy and certainly tasty.

And as I do tend to gravitate to the melancholy this time of year as I find myself
missing those who are now no longer present in my small world…
mother’s lemon squares were calling.

Mother wasn’t known for her cooking or baking prowess, but those things she did
manage to succeed with while being in the kitchen are now treasured.

So the lemons squares it would be….

But where was her recipe…


(just one small pile of old cards and notes)

It’s amazing how over the years I’ve amassed such a plethora of old, spotted and stained
envelopes, note cards, papers, and even old receipts all covered with the scribblings
both of myself, family and friends.
A myriad of recipes which have been meant to be tried, tested and savored…
and yet with the advent of all things internet…it’s almost too easy to click
a button rather than dig through the drawers, books, and cabinets seeking that one
lost recipe.

Finally, I found what I had written down from my mom’s recipe…
but as to where her original handwritten card currently rests eludes me…
but this would have to do. Yet I had already moved to a different recipe as I couldn’t
find this one in time.

So as this is the time of year for gifts and gift giving…and since I use to share a lot more
about cooking and recipes when I first started this thing called a blog—
here is a copy of mother’s recipe along with the one I mismashed for today’s
Lemon’s squares…

Merry Christmas!!


(mother’s recipe)

Ingredients:
For the base:
1 stick of softened unsalted butter
2 cups sifted flour (I like King Arthur’s unbleached)
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
For the filling:
4 eggs lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
the juice from 4 lemons (1/3 cup but I actually used just shy of a 1/2 cup)
grated lemon peel from the four lemons you’ll juice
(grate them whole before cutting and juicing)
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
(it is a nice rounding out of the often harshness of fresh lemon juice)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using a 9×13 pan—I spray baker’s joy on the bottom and then line the bottom with
parchment paper that I cut to fit. I then spray the parchment paper
(you can use butter and flour if you prefer)

Set the prepared pan aside.

In a mixing bowl sift the 2 cups of flour and the 1/2 cup confectioners sugar—
using a pastry blender, cut in the softened stick of butter until the mixture looks
like grainy sand—and holds together when handling.

Press this mixture down into your prepared baking dish.

Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes until lightly
browned and puffed.

Cool while you prepare the filling.

In a bowl stir in 1 1/2 cups sugar, the grated lemon peel, a dash of salt,
1/4 cup of flour add the lemon juice, extract and then the beaten eggs until all
is incorporated.

Pop in the oven and cook an additional 25 minutes.

The filling will puff and might slightly brown just a tad.

When it’s finished baking, remove the pan and place it on a cooling rack,
allowing the pan to cool down.

(here is where some suggest putting the pan in the fridge to cool for at least two
hours but I just let it rest on the counter)

When cool—I dust the top with powered sugar—
I use a small mesh sieve that I shake over the pan
which adds a nice light dusting.

Next I use a bench scraper to cut the bars or you can use a knife

So before you’re hung up to dry, have yourself a merry little lemon square…

and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger,
because there was no guest room available for them.

Luke 2:7

life and death never cease to amaze me…

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood
becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

C.S. Lewis

“I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die.
The world will keep on turning without me, I can’t do anything to change events anyway.”

Anne Frank


(dried hydranga blooms / Julie Cook / 2018)

I had a couple of posts that I had been working on that were waiting in the wings.
Posts I was all geared up to finish writing and excited about sharing today.

I had just watched the latest offering by Bishop Ashenden–of which makes for excellent sharing…
And of course, there’s our friend the Wee Flea…and his latest observations…
of which it seems, often needs to be our own observations…as he is always spot on.

Then there’s the story of the animal folks out there and stories of the types of animals that
they’re trying to pass off as “service animals” as they try their darndest to get these
service creatures on planes.
It actually makes for a humorous, ridiculous and rather captivating tale that is now sadly
an indication as to the nuttiness of our society…

And of course, there is the on again off again notion of the Russians coming, going
and not coming or going…

I mean just open any newspaper or click on any news feed or watch ‘the news’—
and the supply of material for the offering of reflection is endless…

Or maybe it is simply a sign that we need to be more earnest with our prayers…as in
never ceasing….of which I believe is actually the case…never ceasing.

But as luck would have it today,
both life and death decided they each needed to intervene in my life.

If I haven’t mentioned it lately, we are officially in baby watch mode.
This first granddaughter of ours is due any day now.
There are however a few glitches that have popped up…but the doctors are assuring us that
we are not to be worrying…for what we see as a glitch, they see as nothing new.

And so as we now hold our breath as we prepare for a new life…today,
which is yesterday if you’re reading this on Saturday, is/was Aunt Maaaatthhhaaaa’s birthday.
She would have been 79.
Remember we lost Martha suddenly and unexpectedly in July.

And so whereas she and I had already had an adventure planned which we should have
lived out this past fall,
as I should have been sharing the tales of our latest exploits…
rather than exploits, I am offering the bittersweet remembrance of her passing.

And to add insult to injury…this morning, which is yesterday morning to you,
just as I was thinking about how much I was missing my aunt,
this accomplice in all things of adventure…
her daughter–that being my cousin….well her fiancee called me, totally out of the blue,
to inform me that she, my cousin, had actually died suddenly while out walking the dog.
On her mom’s birthday.
She was just 48.

She had had a nagging cough and had been tested for the flu but they were treating it as
chronic asthma. I think they are suspecting blood clots in the lungs but I also suspect
that as was very much overweight, I think her heart simply gave out.
She leaves behind a 26-year-old daughter who struggles with autism and a totally shocked
and bereft fiancee who had just proposed on New Year’s Eve.

Both my mother and her sister, Aunt Martha, clung to the old-school
wive’s tales and adamantly held to the notion that bad things always happened in threes…

I say this family has had its three.

And so now no one remains on my mother’s side of the family but for the daughter of
this cousin and me.

And so I am poignantly reminded that we human beings are a people who mark our
days by the significance of the calendar…the passing of time marked by events.
As there will always be ironies found in both our births and in our passings.

I was all ready to be heading off in one direction today when life saw that I should
head in a totally different sort of direction…one that is much more deeply reflective.
And just when I thought we couldn’t get any more reflective then perusing the thoughts of
Bishop Ashenden or the Wee Flea, David Roberston…life teaches us otherwise.

It seems that there will always be joy and sorrow constantly rolled into one another…
Some would call that a ying and yang of living or simply karma—the coming and going around
of the good and bad in the universe…

I simply call it life.

The ebb and flow of this gift we have been given.
Nothing on earth is a guarantee…all but for the love, God has for His children.

And whereas none of us know or are guaranteed another day, let alone another hour…
Knowing that our lives, as precarious and fragile as they are,
are at all times found safely in the hand of the Father, is comfort enough for me…
May it be comfort enough for you…

For despite the markings of the calendar, none of us know the day nor time
our earthly life will come to a close…I pray to be in the hands of the Father
when that day should come for me…

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
What is your life?
For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

James 4:14

what are you willing to die for

“You cannot turn me from my holy Faith by threats, nor with promises of riches and pleasures.
I will obey your orders willingly, if you will leave me free to follow my religion.
I would rather surrender my head to you than to change my faith.
I was born a Christian, and I shall die a Christian.”

+ St. John the Russian


(lingering pomergarnite / Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2018)

The definition of the word martyr, according to Merriam Webster is: a person who voluntarily
suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion.

When we think of individuals who fit that description…we think of those individuals
who reach out to us from various Biblical tales.
We recall the stories of individuals who were tried and sentenced to death
for their faith in God, people like Daniel in the lion’s den—
or of Mesach, Shadrach, and Abednego along with King Nebuchadnezzar who decreed
having them thrown into the furnace…
We think of the stories of those individuals who refused to recant their belief in
the Omnipotent God.

Stories that are both far away and long ago.

And so in turn, we know from our Biblical history teachings that St Stephen was the first
recorded Christian martyr—
a man who refused to renounce his Christian faith, that of his belief in Jesus Christ…
with the near obvious result being his death…
and in Stephen’s case, it was by stoning.

The New Testament is laced with such stories—the stories of those who
suffered and died for refusing to denounce Jesus Christ as the Risen Son of God.

Yet today when we hear the word martyr or martyrdom, our 21st-century minds focuses in
on radical extremists…radical Islamic suicide bombers who offer themselves,
their lives, in order to kill as many other people as possible.
Not like the Christian who simply stands firm in his or her faith.

Christian martyrs are still being killed worldwide…
They die more or less quietly as their deaths are not publicized or are of common knowledge—
in part because they die in places where news of such is very hidden and or controlled.
Their deaths do not make the papers or the evening news.
Their deaths are not the headline gripping stories of deaths carried out by those who
prefer to kill mass numbers of people due to a skewed faith…

Many in the West, members of the Christian faith along with nonbelievers,
erroneously assume that Christian martyrdom ended with the fall of Rome…
due in part because the deaths of martyred Christians
does not make the nightly news or is not sprawled across the headlines.

The tales of imprisonment, tortures, and deaths of today’s Christians are not on the level
of breaking news as are those of the martyred Islamists because of the flip-flopped
extremist’s view of martyrdom.
Whereas the radical kills hundreds in one act—the countless numbers of tortured and
martyred Christians go virtually unnoticed.

However what we do know is that an Islamic Martyr sacrifices self in order to kill
while the Christian martyr is killed because he or she will not recant their faith…
and often is killed because of an attempt to protect others…
certainly not to harm others.

A vast difference.

Today most Westerners, and again that would be both Believers and non Believers,
does not feel a life or death threat or link to or for any martyred Christians
simply because the notion of a martyred Christians is not currently taking place.
Or at least that’s what we assume.

We aren’t still stoning or curcifying a person because they claim to be a Christian,
are we???

But what many in our society do not realize is that just because we live in an oh so
very modern society, there are indeed places still around the globe where Christians
are being stoned to death and even crucified for their faith despite our thinking
such barbarism disappeared eons ago.

Yet we read of IS and of the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians and
we occasionally hear a word of those who are killed for their faith in places
like North Korea, China, Myramar…but not here we will gloat, not where life
is civilized…right?

Yet what we fail to both see and understand is that the persecution of the Christian
in our Western Society is very much real…. however it is more hidden,
more insidious and quietly more subtle than those types of murders and deaths of those
Christians from either our history books or of those in far-flung regions of the world.

It would behoove us to realize that just because we consider ourselves “civilized” and
above the torture and or persecution of individuals for their Christian belief,
we should stop and take notice that there is one who is very much aware of the fact that
there is indeed such persecution taking place…
as such acts are carried out in a much more hidden and sinister type of execution…
And this individual is much more keenly aware of such…much more so than any human being.
And He couldn’t be more excited…

Abba [St] Athanasios, bishop of Alexandria, said:
“One of you often says: ‘Where is the persecution so I can be martyred?’
Suffer martyrdom in your conscience; die to sin;
‘Mortify your members which are upon the earth’ [cf. Col 3:5]
and you will have become a martyr by intention.

Those [former martyrs] fought with emperors and rulers;
you have the devil, the emperor of sin, for adversary and demons for rulers.
For at that time a shrine and an altar stood before them and an abomination
of idolatry, an execrable idol.

Take careful thought;
even today there is an altar and a sanctuary and a virtual execrable idol in the soul.
An altar, that is luxurious gluttony; a sanctuary, the longing for delights;
an idol, the spirit of covetousness.

just make mine vanilla

Love ice cream.
I let myself have that about once a week.
Vanilla.

Tim Tebow


(three old shots from back in 2013 when I was first making my vanilia extract–the longer it sits,
the better it gets…just add a new bean or two over time and top off with the sprit of choice)

I like to cook.
This much we know to be true.

I use to post a good bit about my cooking exploits but over time I’ve obviously shifted my
focus and attention to issues I find more pressing…
issues like those concerning Christianity
and the practicing of our faith in a post-modern, post-Christian era.

However, I will still raise the battle cry over other issues I think pertinent to this good fight
we call life…

Take today for instance…(or yesterday if you’re reading this on Saturday)

I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few items.
I needed some cat food and Grapeseed oil so while I was over in the cooking oil aisle,
I decided I needed to check out the spices.
I needed to peruse the spice area as there seemed to be a mental list somewhere nagging
in my brain, begging me to remember something from this particular section that I needed…

I grabbed some Adobo chili powder.
I’ve never used it before but I’d seen a recipe for slow-simmered chicken…a recipe for chicken tacos…remember, I’m trying to reduce the iron content while looking for foods that will avert the absorption—spicey things supposedly help.

While still perusing, my eyes stopped on a bottle of Vanilla beans.

Ahhh, the mental alarm clock sounded.

Yep, I needed some more beans as I’d used the last two I had in the recently poached pear recipe.
(also a tasty recipe I once posted)

I grabbed the bottle.
There were two measly beans in the bottle.
Vanilla beans are a precious commodity.
But why companies are so chintzy I’ve never figured it out.

I looked at the price—they are usually costly as I’ve paid almost 10 bucks a bottle before,
but I was wondering just how high they might be now.
I do prefer ordering my beans in bulk as it’s cheaper but I needed to have at least two on hand.
One never knows when an unctuous creme brulee is calling…

What to my wandering eyes did appear but a 2 and a 5 joined together…as in
25 dollars for the bottle!!!!!!

WHAT?????

Is this a misprint??? my panicky brain wonders.
I march myself, with the bottle in hand, over to a gal at a register.
“Is this price correct” I practically screamed at the unsuspecting cashier.
She scanned the bottle.
“Oh my gosh” she practically screams back.
“25 dollars for Vanilia beans???? she nervously screams again.

“That’s what I thought” I reply almost exhausted from our heightened sense of distraughment.

I use vanilla beans a lot.

I’ve actually made my own vanilla and bourbon vanilla extracts, a recipe in which
I’ve shared in prior posts from back in 2013.
A homemade vanilla extract is the best of the best!! And it lasts forever.

Making the extract required my having to buy a bunch of beans…
beans I had actually ordered from Amazon–
I used Tahitian and Madagascar beans as each offers a different floral warm scent and taste.

Once home from the store, I decided to go check out the Amazon site,
just to see what they were currently selling my bulk bag of beans for as I was going to order
a new batch just to store for when I needed them—

Immediately I see that 5 beans, just 5 little beans, were going for a whopping 27 bucks.
Which did, however, beat the grocery store’s two beans for 25 bucks.
My regular ordered batch of shrink-wrapped beans was going for…
sit down before I tell you…
1/4 of a pound of beans at $115.00 while a full pound of beans listed for $400!!!!!!!!

For a batch of homemade vanilla extract, you need a good 15 to 20 beans…
of which maturate in a bottle that is large enough to contain them with enough vodka or
bourbon poured over to cover…as they are left to steep until a deep rich brown color
appears and the heady spicy aroma of delicious warmth wafts from the uncorked bottle.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON????? I practically wail.

I immediately race to the trusty all-knowing Google to type in ‘vanilla bean prices’
and sure enough, I found many articles and news stories regarding the exponentially
skyrocketing prices

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/vanilla-bean-shortage-madagascar-drives-up-us-prices/

A precarious commodity that is a fragile commodity.
A product that is prone to drought, fickled growing seasons, poaching, farmers who don’t
allow the pods to fully mature in a race to get the pods to a demanding market and finally
it is simply a matter of time…for it takes three long years for a plant to produce a pod.

According to Wikipedia, vanilla is the second most expensive spice coming in right
behind saffron.
And gathering a ready pod is extremely labor intensive because these pods of
this particular species of the orchid family are each hand pollinated…pod per pod.

Vanilla, just plain old vanilla.

Consider its humble base taste…it is often the brunt of those who refer to things as
just being average..as in vanilla, as in plain jane, as in generic, as in nothing special,
as in the bottom of the list.

Yet vanilla is a great building base—a needed and important humble building block.
Imagine Chocolate chip cookies without that added splash of vanilla.
Think vanilla bean ice-cream, sour cream pound cake, pannacotta, rice pudding,
milkshakes, protein shakes, puddings, eclairs, cookies, candy, yogurt, chewing gum,
cosmetics, perfumes, aromatherapies…the list is nearly endless….
all without their needed vanilla.

There are four main types of vanilla beans used in our consumption: Tahitian, Indonesian,
Mexican and Madagascar

http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/4-kinds-vanilla-beans-know

There are however those purists out there who do indeed favor the unadulterated flavor
of that simple, smokey, sweet, floral flavor of just plain old fashioned vanilla.
No swirls of caramel, no colorful sprinkles, not bits of cookie or peppermint or toffee,
or chocolate syrup or diced fruit…just simple, plain old vanilla.

So I suppose I might just have a little problem…a little expensive problem…
As we might all just have a largely flavorless problem…

Here’s to hoping the current growing crop thrives…
hopefully in time for this summer’s long-awaited and even yearned for home-churned ice cream…
because it just won’t be summer without a bowl of fresh homemade vanilla ice cream!!!

There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are
a precious jewel.

Proverbs 20:15